Republicans and Democrats sparred Friday morning over legislation to make the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the gatekeeper for approving natural gas exports.
The current process provides for a two-step process in which FERC’s primary siting approval must be evaluated and approved by the Department of Energy, which has typically dragged its feet before issuing final decisions on export decisions.
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee want to make FERC's approval process the final say on exports. At a Friday hearing, they said changes to the natural gas export approval process are long overdue, especially with the shale revolution and fracking boom that has made the U.S. a net natural gas exporter.
"Now to capitalize on this incredible opportunity, we need to update our laws to remove unnecessary barriers to innovation and growth," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
“The United States is the world’s number one producer of oil and gas and our reserves are so large they’re predicted to meet domestic demand for a century or more," Walden added in opening remarks.
Democrats on the committee opposed the legislative changes, saying the proposed updates are "not in the public interest” and would undermine environmental safeguards, according to Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the panel.
“I fail to see the need for almost any of the policy changes,” said Pallone. "The bill does away with the Natural Gas Act’s prohibition on the import or export of natural gas without prior approval from the Department of Energy. It removes longstanding consumer protections and prevents DOE from ensuring exports of liquefied natural gas to non-free trade agreement countries are consistent with the public interest.”
The bill would also allow natural gas exports to flow to countries regardless of whether they have free trade agreements with the U.S., without Energy Department review.
The Trump administration has no opinion on the legislation at this point, said a senior Energy Department official at the hearing.
“The administration has not taken a position,” said Steven Winberg, assistant secretary for fossil energy. “Congress gave authority to the Department of Energy to perform the public interest. We certainly look forward to working with this committee to review the bills in more detail and understand the implications that they have.”
Winberg acknowledged that the legislation would amend the Natural Gas Act and “remove DOE’s authority in regulating natural gas trade for the United States,” while FERC’s authority is unchanged.