() - A group of Senate Republicans and two centrist Democrats shook up political debates over U.S. natural gas exports Jan. 30 with legislation that would ensure federal approval of exports to NATO countries and Japan. Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and several colleagues introduced the bill as the Energy Department is reviewing 16 applications to export liquefied natural gas to countries that don't have free-trade deals with the U.S
The Expedited LNG for American Allies Act would put NATO allies and Japan on equal footing with formal free-trade partners that generally receive automatic approval for LNG exports. The bill expands on legislation floated in late 2012 by now-retired Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., that would have provided automatic approval for exports to NATO countries.
In addition to Japan and NATO countries, the new Senate bill would require the Energy Department to approve exports to other nations if the State Department, in consultation with the Defense Department, determines that it would promote U.S. security interests. The prospect of major exports of U.S.-produced natural gas has generated opposition from some big U.S. manufacturing and chemical companies that fear higher domestic prices, and has drawn pushback from some environmentalists as well.