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Senators bring back bill to advance small LNG export approvals at DOE

U.S. Republican senators reintroduced a bill to speed up the U.S. Department of Energy's approval of export licenses for small volumes of LNG.

The bill is backed by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., John Kennedy, R-La., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Energy. It would help expedite DOE reviews of LNG export activity in volumes equal to or less than 51.1 Bcf per year. Under the arrangement, the DOE would view such LNG exports as in the public interest and grant authorization "without modification or delay," according to a March 14 statement.

The Small Scale LNG Access Act would codify a DOE final rule issued in 2018 that mostly eliminated the need for a federal review of small-scale gas exports to countries that do not have a free trade agreement with the U.S., putting that type of exports in the same category as trade with countries that do hold a free trade agreement.

Rubio observed that such exports would primarily serve customers in Caribbean, Central American and South American markets. "Expediting approval of small-scale natural gas exports would strengthen an emerging sector of Florida's economy and bolster our existing ties with Caribbean and Latin American nations," Rubio said in the statement.

The other sponsors also touted economic benefits for their states and for the Americas. "The bill is about one thing: Louisiana jobs," Kennedy said.

Rubio and Cassidy introduced similar legislation in the last Congress. The bill passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee 13-10 but did not go any farther. A version of the bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives.

The U.S. LNG industry association Center for Liquefied Natural Gas praised the introduction of the new bill.

"In light of last year's DOE rule to expedite the approval of small-scale LNG exports, the Small Scale LNG Access Act is another step to ensure legislative certainty for small-scale LNG exports," Executive Director Charlie Riedl said in a statement. "After working with stakeholders in the previous Congress on small-scale LNG issues, we are excited to work with Senators Cassidy, Kennedy, Rubio and others in ensuring certainty in the export process."

"Small-scale LNG exports offer a way to help replace dirtier fuels in Caribbean and Latin American economies with clean, affordable, and reliable U.S. natural gas while providing jobs at home," Riedl said.

In September 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced efforts to move quickly on reviews of applications to build the U.S. LNG terminal projects that would process gas exports. FERC has faced pressure from lawmakers and industry groups to address a backlog of pending applications for these export projects.