Given the Obama administration’s struggles to increase exports, it’s baffling that officials continue to hold back on one of the surest ways to expand trade of American products to other nations.
I am speaking of proposals to export liquefied natural gas (LNG). The Department of Energy is sitting on 19 proposals to export LNG from the United States – some of which were filed nearly two years ago. There is still no explanation for the delay in approving them.
DOE has only approved three applications so far, one in May 2011, another in May of this year, and the third one this week. DOE’s failure to act quickly is particularly puzzling given the fact that a report commissioned by the department last year found that, under a wide range of scenarios, exporting LNG would have net benefits for the American economy.
Curiously, even the timeline for processing applications that DOE officials offered up earlier this year is one they have failed to meet. They indicated they could process applications in roughly 60-day intervals, but DOE took 81 days between issuing its second and third application approvals. Indeed, these schedules seem arbitrary and subjective because DOE has already closed the comment period for 16 of the 19 applications they have in hand.
Last month, a bipartisan group of 34 U.S. senators wrote Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz urging him to pick up the pace. The coalition of Democrats and Republicans – comprising one-third of the Senate – warned that the ongoing delays mean that U.S. companies are losing out in the race to supply a competitive global LNG marketplace (a point that Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski makes very forcefully in a new white paper on the United States joining the global gas trade).
Let’s hope Secretary Moniz and the White House listen to these leaders from both parties.
Meanwhile, I’ll just note that when White House economic adviser Gene Sperling was asked this week about exports, he said, “I feel like the wind is at our backs. Like a lot of things in life, good things happen when you seize opportunity, when you have a trend going your way and you seize and expand on it.”
The wind may be at our backs. But it doesn’t do our exports position any good if the federal government is keeping us tied to the docks.