WASHINGTON — Legislation authored by Rep. Cory Gardner to eliminate bureaucratic red tape and expedite exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to U.S. allies including Ukraine will be considered Tuesday by a House panel on energy.
The Colorado Republican and other House supporters have been working since October to persuade the Obama administration to approve the backlog of 23 applications that have stalled in the Energy Department.
Russia’s increased aggression against Ukraine has fueled a surge of support among lawmakers here to take action against the former Communist regime. Sending a signal to Russia that the U.S. intends to increase supply of the affordable fuel on the world market would ease that region’s reliance on Russia, say the bill’s supporters.
President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia including a travel ban and asset freezes on numerous Russian officials and a Russian bank after President Vladimir Putin moved on Crimea.
“It is going to take more than sanctions to stand up to Putin, and taking action on exports would weaken his grip by sending a clear signal to our allies that they no longer have to be at the mercy of Russian energy supplies,” Gardner said in a statement.
“This legislation will provide a safe and secure energy source abroad while delivering economic growth and job creation here at home,” said Gardner.
The hearing by the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy and power is the first step for Gardner’s Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act before it can move to the House floor.
On Monday, Obama and other leaders of the world’s largest economies known as the G-8, became the G-7 after agreeing to exclude Russia if Putin pushes farther into Ukraine and vowed to exert sanctions on Russia’s energy industries.
If the U.S. is going to stand firm in unwavering support for Ukraine, Gardner said that should include unlocking natural gas supplies in the U.S. to help free Ukraine and other European nations from Russia’s influence.
Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall pledged his support for increased exportation of LNG and on March 5 introduced legislation similar to Gardner’s that would eventually expand U.S. energy development and the overseas market to World Trade Organization countries that include Ukraine, Japan and India.
“Colorado and our nation’s clean-burning and job-creating natural gas has an important role to play in strengthening global security,” Udall said in a statement.
The ongoing crisis in Ukraine — and Russia’s threat to use its natural gas exports as a cudgel there — shows why we need to responsibly develop our natural gas reserves and expand our ability to export this resource abroad,” Udall said.
However, leading activists in Udall’s core environmental base are opposed to the exportation of natural gas and in particular to the construction of an LNG terminal in Maryland.
In a letter to the White House last week, 16 environmental groups urged Obama to oppose increased exportation saying it would lead to more hydraulic fracturing and global warming.
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told the Wall Street Journal that their opposition is not based on the situation in Crimea, but in part because most exports would go to Asia where prices are higher.
“The idea that U.S. gas exports could address the human rights abuses that we’re seeing in Crimea reflects a lack of comprehension and lack of vision,” Brune said.
Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, told The Hill that supporting natural gas would be politically detrimental to the president and the Democratic Party.
“Everybody’s watching now, this kind of stuff. And Democratic politicians who thought they might get by with a wink and a nod aren’t,” McKibben said. “Fracking’s become a dirty word, for good reason.”
Meanwhile, the Senate on Monday voted 78-17 to begin consideration of sending financial aid to Ukraine that includes $100 million to promote democracy and $1 billion in U.S.-backed loans. Udall and Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet voted in favor of the foreign aid.
Udall is up for reelection in November and is likely to face Gardner, a strong contender for the Republican nomination.