After expressing concerns for months that President Obama was moving too fast approving exports of natural gas, a senior Senate Democrat now says she's "comfortable" with the strategy.
This shift in position by Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan comes as the Energy Department on Tuesday green-lighted another application to export natural gas overseas, the sixth such approval in the last two years.
Stabenow, who chairs the Agriculture Committee and is a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, says she's been talking with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on this issue.
"I've been working with the secretary, and I'm comfortable with what he is talking about as a strategy at this point longer-term," Stabenow said Tuesday. "I'm not going to object to this particular one [export license]. I think we're more on the same wavelength."
Last month, Stabenow said she was considering placing a hold on Christopher Smith, an Energy Department official overseeing the export policy who has been nominated as assistant secretary for fossil energy at DOE. "I am concerned that they are not understanding that they need to have a pause in the new approvals on facilities until we see what impact the current approvals will have "¦ how it affects manufacturing," Stabenow said in January.
On Tuesday, the Energy Department approved a project in Louisiana to export natural gas to countries that aren't free-trade partners with the United States, a process that includes more federal restrictions than exports to countries that are free-trade partners with the U.S.
Stabenow's comments were more positive in reaction to Tuesday's approval than those of Dow Chemical, a global company headquartered in Michigan. Dow and other manufacturers that use natural gas as a feedstock, such as aluminum-maker Alcoa, are opposed to increasing exports too much out of concern it could raise domestic prices, which have been near record lows because of the natural-gas boom in the last several years.
In a statement Tuesday, Dow urged the administration to hit the pause button on approval of liquefied-natural-gas exports to countries that don't have free-trade agreements with the United States. More than 20 such applications are pending at the Energy Department.
"Moving forward, we recommend that DOE strongly considers taking a pause in the LNG export approval process to fully understand the long-term implications of these approvals," a Dow spokesperson said in an email. "As natural gas prices continue to rise over 30 percent, it will demonstrate to the American public that DOE is committed to putting the consumer before the oil and gas industry."
Some energy analysts predict the Energy Department may indeed move forward with this "pause" approach on future approvals, which have been coming at semi-regular intervals every few months. But Stabenow said Moniz had not committed to her verbally that he was planning such a pause.