On the same day that Sen. Mary Landrieu took the gavel of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a natural-gas export project in Louisiana received the green light from the Obama administration.
The two developments, which occurred just hours apart on Tuesday, are big boosts for Landrieu as she seeks reelection in Louisiana, a state that's redder now than it was the last time she ran six years ago.
At an event in Washington, Landrieu she said she was "thrilled" about the approval. In a prepared statement, she described the announcement as "long overdue, but a welcome addition to the robust energy industry we are building in Louisiana."
The Energy Department's approval of the Louisiana project, owned by California-based Sempra Energy, is the sixth natural-gas export terminal that serves countries that aren't free-trade partners with the U.S. More than 20 applications are still pending.
This announcement comes a week after Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee urged the administration to speed up approval of natural-gas exports, citing economic and geopolitical benefits.
The approval could inflame a debate that's been brewing in Washington in recent years. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, has expressed concern over the pace of approvals and has considered putting a hold on confirmation of a top Energy Department official because of these concerns.
Dow Chemical, an international chemical manufacturing company whose headquarters are in Michigan, has been especially vocal in opposing unfettered exports. Dow and other companies that use natural gas as a feedstock, such as aluminum-maker Alcoa, are concerned that exporting the fossil fuel could raise domestic prices, which have been near record lows because of the natural-gas boom in the last several years.
Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member David Vitter, R-La., also praised the administration's approval on Tuesday, although he noted this isn't the final sign-off. "This conditional approval means the Cameron LNG project has taken an important step in the right direction," said Vitter in a statement. "I'll continue to push for final approval to get this cutting-edge liquefied natural gas project through the cumbersome federal regulatory process." Vitter announced last month he is running for governor in Louisiana in 2015.