Debate Over Natural-Gas Exports Flares Up in Senate Hearing

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) speaks during a press conference calling for passage of mental health legislation as part of a gun safety package with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) at the U.S. Capitol April 9, 2013 in Washington, DC. The legislation would expand access to treatment and improve the quality of care at community mental health centers. 
National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
Jan. 16, 2014, 6:11 a.m.

A Sen­ate pan­el voted to ad­vance a slate of nom­in­a­tions for high-rank­ing In­teri­or and En­ergy De­part­ment posts on Thursday, des­pite strong op­pos­i­tion to one of the nom­in­ees from Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who voiced con­cern that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is mov­ing too fast in its ap­prov­al of nat­ur­al-gas ex­port ter­min­als. 

The Michigan sen­at­or, whose state is home to chem­ic­al-man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Dow Chem­ic­al, was the only mem­ber of the Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee to vote against the oth­er­wise non­con­tro­ver­sial nom­in­a­tion of Chris­toph­er Smith to be­come as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary for fossil en­ergy at DOE.

“I still am very con­cerned about Chris­toph­er Smith,” Stabenow said dur­ing the hear­ing. “I don’t be­lieve there’s an un­der­stand­ing at DOE of the bal­ance that we need between ex­port­ing nat­ur­al gas and un­der­stand­ing the crit­ic­al re­source we have for im­prov­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing in our coun­try by keep­ing prices low for con­sumers and man­u­fac­tur­ers.”

Crit­ics of ex­pan­ded ex­ports say that if U.S. nat­ur­al gas is shipped abroad, it will push up prices do­mest­ic­ally. Sup­port­ers counter that ex­ports would bol­ster trade and aid the eco­nomy. 

Stabenow’s con­cern over what she de­scribes as the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fast pace of ap­provals for new ex­port ter­min­als is strong enough that the sen­at­or was weigh­ing a hold on the nom­in­ee as of last week.

Sen. John Bar­rasso, a Wyom­ing Re­pub­lic­an, was quick to counter Stabenow’s as­ser­tion dur­ing the hear­ing. “It’s not that this ad­min­is­tra­tion is act­ing too fast on li­que­fied nat­ur­al-gas ex­ports,” he said. “This ad­min­is­tra­tion is act­ing too slow.”

He ad­ded: “In three and a half years, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has used its dis­cre­tion to ap­prove only five ap­plic­a­tions for li­que­fied nat­ur­al gas. Mean­while the ad­min­is­tra­tion is sit­ting on over 20 pending ap­plic­a­tions.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Vir­gin­ia Demo­crat, also de­fen­ded the nom­in­a­tion.

Ad­dress­ing Stabenow dir­ectly, Manchin said: “You’re say­ing he just wants to throw cau­tion to the wind, I didn’t get that at all.”

“I in­ter­viewed Chris Smith also and I found not that he wanted to turn the spig­ots loose, but ba­sic­ally he was look­ing for that bal­ance,” Manchin said. 

Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ron Wyden, an Ore­gon Demo­crat, ac­know­ledged that de­bate over fossil-fuel ex­ports is heat­ing up and an­nounced that the com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing on crude-oil ex­ports the week after Con­gress re­turns from re­cess. An aide for the com­mit­tee con­firmed that the hear­ing will take place Jan. 30.

Amy Harder contributed to this article.
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