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Senate Democrats press for speedier LNG export permits

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration must speed up approvals of liquefied natural gas exports to help boost global supplies and help U.S. allies, five Senate Democrats said on Friday.

The lawmakers, all from natural gas-producing states, urged the Energy Department to place additional weight on national security matters in its review of LNG export applications.

The Democrats said they wanted to show the White House that there is significant Democratic support for speeding up gas exports, even though Republicans typically lead the chorus.

"Our allies have emphasized that a strong market signal from the United States that it is a willing future supplier of LNG, even if those supplies are not immediately available, would have profound, positive and immediate strategic implications," the lawmakers said in the a letter to President Barack Obama.

It was signed by Senators Mark Udall of Colorado, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

The Energy Department should also prioritize consideration of projects with backers that have already made major investments, the lawmakers said.

The Energy Department has approved six projects in the past year, averaging about six to eight weeks between decisions, but has so far considered applications in the order they are received. The next in line for approval is A Leucadia National Corp facility in Oregon.

Lawmakers have pressured the administration to issue decisions on more than 20 pending proposals in the wake of Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. In the past Moscow has cut gas supplies during regional disputes.

Critics of accelerating the pace of LNG export approvals say the United States remains years away from shipping significant amounts of gas abroad, as these projects still have to be constructed. Some chemical companies and others that use natural gas for manufacturing say exporting too much gas will raise costs for domestic users.

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe, editing by Ros Krasny and David Gregorio)

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