Stabenow ‘Comfortable’ With Gas-Export Strategy

WASHINGTON - JUNE 22: Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) participates in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on June 22, 2010 in Washington, DC. The committee is hearing testimony on policies that would reduce oil consumption through the promotion of accelerated deployment of electric-drive vehicles. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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Amy Harder
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Amy Harder
Feb. 11, 2014, 10:23 a.m.

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.

Clare Foran contributed to this article.
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