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Republican congressman sees 'huge' geopolitical impact from LNG export bill

Removing the U.S. Department of Energy from the LNG export permitting process would have a "huge" geopolitical impact, according to a Republican congressman from Ohio who introduced a bill aimed at expediting approvals of gas exports to countries that do not have free trade agreements with the U.S.

Speaking at a Feb. 14 industry event in Washington, D.C., Rep. Bill Johnson touted U.S. LNG exports as a way to weaken Russia's influence in Europe, a frequent rallying cry for the industry's supporters in the Capitol. He said a bill he introduced in December 2017 that seeks to remove the DOE from the permitting process would help facilitate additional LNG exports to allies in Europe that are dependent on Russian gas.

The proposed legislation, which Johnson co-sponsored with Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, is one of a handful of efforts to shorten the approval time for developers seeking to export LNG. Unlike other legislative efforts, however, Johnson and Ryan's would relegate the final say on LNG exports to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which now is tasked with permitting solely the infrastructure that supports exports.

"Let's make FERC the lead agent in this process, streamline the permitting process [and] get America into LNG exports on the global stage in a big, big way," Johnson said Feb. 14 at the breakfast hosted by the U.S. Energy Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group. "The geopolitical implications of that are absolutely huge."

Although many industry experts say LNG export hopefuls' main obstacle is financing multibillion-dollar projects in the face of a glutted global market, lawmakers have sought ways to speed up the wait for developers that have received their final order from FERC but still need authorization from the DOE to export to countries with which the U.S. does not have a free trade agreement.

Separate bills introduced by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Bill Cassidy, R-La., would make the DOE permit process for LNG exports to non-FTA countries mirror the nearly automatic process for exports to countries that have free trade agreements with the U.S.

Past legislative efforts to expedite LNG export permitting have failed in Congress despite bipartisan support.

Johnson, who sits on the House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee, said he is "optimistic" his bill will pass after getting "some positive indications" from the Trump administration, though he added that he is "not sure they want to roll DOE out of the formula altogether." He also said he has not had a "direct discussion" with Energy Secretary Rick Perry about his proposal to remove the agency from the process.

"There is absolutely room for streamlining," he said. "Secretary Perry knows that, FERC knows that, the president knows that, and of course the Energy and Commerce Committee — we know that."

The DOE is also considering ways to streamline its process for approving LNG exports. In an October 2017 report signed by Perry, the department said a task force will look at whether the agency can speed up larger-scale LNG exports while still following its statutory duties.