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Gas Export Push Gains Steam, Bulldozing Environmental Concerns (cont’d)

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That might have had something to do with the witnesses, many of whom, as Steve Horn has reported, have industry ties. Arguably, the most enthusiastic defense of exports came from David Montgomery, senior vice president at NERA Economic Consulting, who testified at both energy committee hearings. His firm’s clients include Louisiana’s Cheniere Energy, which operates the LNG terminal that’s scheduled to open in late 2015. Montgomery in his prepared remarks noted that “he do[es] not speak for Cheniere.”

While advocates of export reform acknowledge that the immediate material impact of reforming the permitting process is negligible, they argue that the signal to Russia is crucial.

“While we won’t be able to ‘turn the spigot’ and bring immediate energy to our allies around the globe, we can send a signal to the rest of the world that help is on the way,” America’s Natural Gas Alliance President and CEO Marty Durbin said in a statement. “Doing nothing on natural gas exports, as some would prefer, would allow other countries with abundant natural gas to leap ahead of us in LNG export capacity and technologies.”

The conversation on the Hill this week, however, was marked by a glaring omission—an actual back-and-forth discussion about the environmental impact of exports.

The Senate hearing featured no mention of climate change at all—a frustrating oversight, no doubt, for many of the environmental groups who have raised the case that LNG exports would accelerate the effects of climate change. On March 18, the leaders of sixteen different national and regional green groups, including 350.org, Food & Water Watch, and the Sierra Club, sent a letter to President Obama, asking that the administration stop approving gas export facilities. The DOE has already approved seven such terminals.

“It is alarming that there was no mention at all of climate change in today’s Senate Energy Committee hearing,” says Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). “Credible new analysis shows that the ‘life-cycle’ greenhouse gas emissions of fracked, liquefied, and exported U.S. gas could be as bad as coal. Natural gas is just another harmful fossil fuel, especially when liquefied and sent to the other side of the planet for combustion.”

Tidwell’s group, CCAN, has led opposition to the proposed conversion of an LNG import facility at Cove Point in Lusby, Md., into an export terminal.

When asked by In These Times about her hearing’s omission of climate change, Landrieu defended herself.

“I want to be open to [environmentalists’] positions,” Landrieu said. “I don’t want to be close-minded in any way. But there is an environmental panel that works in Washington and they could bring their concerns there. This is an energy lands committee where we want to both promote and focus on energy production. Its impact on the environment is important but not primary.”

With a hodge-podge of bills and potential amendments up for debate in both chambers, it’s unclear what steps Congress will take next. Landrieu told reporters that it was up to party leadership to decide what amendments would be allowed.

She praised Sen. Udall’s proposal that, like Rep. Gardner’s bill, expands the list of fast-tracked list of countries to include all WTO countries. Unlike Gardner’s legislation, however, Udall’s version doesn’t take the additional step of triggering the approval of all pending applications for which a notice has been issued in the Federal Register.

Whatever happens this week, exports are likely to remain on the legislative agenda for the remainder of the session.

“This committee is going to be very focused on a true domestic energy production policy for this country,” Landrieu said. “This is important for jobs in America but it’s important for America’s strength and for democratic expansion in the world.”

It also is important for the 2014 election cycle.

Recent polls show Landrieu trailing her GOP opponent this fall by a small margin. As she tries to fend off that challenge, Landrieu has reeled in more cash from the oil and gas industry than any other Democratic member of Congress. Senator Udall, too, faces a tough re-election bid, and, in this campaign cycle, he ranks just below Landrieu when it comes to energy industry contributions to Democrats. His leading opponent in the GOP primary? That would be fellow gas export champion Rep. Cory Gardner.

Cole Stangler writes about labor and the environment. His reporting has also appeared in The Nation, VICE, The New Republic and International Business Times. He lives in Paris, France. He can be reached at cole[at]inthesetimes.com. Follow him @colestangler.

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