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By Ari Natter
Jan. 28 — Backers of legislation that would require the Energy Department to expedite consideration of applications to export liquefied natural gas that was passed by the House Jan. 28 are optimistic the president will sign the bill into law after it failed to garner a White House veto threat.
The bill (H.R. 351) was approved by a vote of 277-133 with House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) among the 41 Democrats who voted for passage.
“This is a rarity with this president, but he has not threatened a veto on this,” Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), the legislation's sponsor, said in a phone interview. “I’m optimistic we have something the president is going to see the value in.”
The legislation would require the Energy Department to issue a final decision on applications to export LNG within 60 days of completion of a National Environmental Policy Act review and also would provide for expedited judicial review if the Energy Department fails to act within 45 days or if the project is subject to a legal challenge.
Moreover, it would require LNG exporters to disclose the country or countries to which LNG has been delivered and require the department to make this information available to the public.
Similar legislation (H.R. 6), which was approved by the House in June, didn't receive a White House veto threat, giving backers of H.R. 351 further hope it would get the president's support.
“It tells me the president would probably sign it, but I’d like to give him that chance,” Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), the bill's lead Democratic cosponsor, said in a phone interview with Bloomberg BNA.
In an e-mail, a White House official said the bill wasn't necessary but stopped short of saying Obama would veto the legislation.
“The Department of Energy has already taken steps to modernize the LNG export approval process and ensure applications are looked at efficiently and expeditiously,” the official said in an e-mail to Bloomberg BNA. “This process is working well, and we don’t believe that legislation is necessary.”
The Energy Department unveiled plans in May to no longer issue conditional approvals for applications to export liquefied natural gas and instead defer final approvals until environmental reviews are completed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
More on the administration's views on the legislation are expected to emerge Jan. 29 during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on a companion bill (S. 33) that has been introduced in the Senate.
Among the witnesses scheduled to testify on the bill, introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), is Christopher A. Smith, the Energy Department's assistant secretary for fossil energy.
Talks between the Energy Department and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who is crafting similar legislation to expedite the department's consideration on natural gas exports, have been ongoing, Ryan Bernstein, Hoeven's chief of staff, previously told Bloomberg BNA.
Under the Natural Gas Act, the Energy Department is required to grant an application to export natural gas to a country without a free trade agreement with the U.S. unless it finds that the proposed export is inconsistent with the public interest.
According to Johnson, the Energy Department has only issued a final decision on five of the 37 non-free trade agreement applications it has received since 2010.
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