Congress avoids showdown on U.S. LNG exports
(Reuters; June 27) - In a bitterly divided U.S. political environment, there's at least one thing Republicans and Democrats can agree on: Avoid a public showdown on natural gas exports. While fluctuating gasoline prices, the Keystone XL oilsands pipeline and the fight over fracking steal headlines, the question of how much of the newfound U.S. shale gas bounty should be shared with the rest of the world goes largely without comment or coverage - despite holding far wider and longer-lasting consequences.
The reason is clear: Unlike the relatively simple, black-and-white issues that politicians often favor and voters connect to, liquefied natural gas is deep, deep gray. It affects a tangled web of constituents, from Big Oil to international allies such as Japan; pits free-trade orthodoxy against the domestic economy; and requires an awkward explanation of why allowing some exports - inevitably raising U.S. energy prices in the short term, even if at the margin - may ultimately be better for the country in the long run.
Lobbyists on both sides of the issue say it suits them best to keep the subject out of the headlines. Producers that stand to benefit from higher selling prices see no upside from a public brawl, while manufacturers that would benefit from continuing low prices shy away from anti-export statements. Only one Senate hearing on exports has been held, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee has no plan to hold hearings. The Energy Department has several export applications on hold white it studies the issue.