Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz in a one-on-one interview Friday with CQ Roll Call signaled that any further changes to how his agency processes natural gas export applications will have to come from Congress, as the Energy Department tries to end a controversy over how the United States ships gas to nations that are not trading partners.
In addition, Moniz dismissed industry complaints that DOE has moved too slowly on export applications as “B.S.,” noting the department can’t take final action until a separate Federal Energy Regulatory Commission review is completed. Some U.S. energy companies eager to expand new overseas markets say the Obama administration is dragging its feet.
Moniz said that lawmakers will have to be the ones to make any more decisions about gas exports now that his agency has laid out its final rules on an overhaul. “Not from the administration, I don’t expect any changes to the process,” Moniz told CQ Roll Call. “Let’s see if Congress acts.” As previously noted , the department this week finalized plans to drop conditional approvals for liquefied natural gas exports to non-trade partners with the United States. Under an overhaul of its process, DOE instead will consider applications for projects that have completed the review requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (PL 91–190). Such projects are seen as more economically viable.
Exports to nations that have trade deals with the United States automatically qualify for DOE approval.
Moniz said conditional approvals were creating problems, in part because there was no way to tell which projects would ultimately be built. Additionally, he noted that companies are no longer waiting for conditional approval before filing for NEPA reviews at FERC, which permits individual export facilities.
“The day of the conditional had kind of passed,” he said.
The procedural changes were in response to longstanding complaints from industry and many lawmakers that DOE’s vetting of export applications moves too slowly. But the industry response to the change was mixed.
Bill Cooper, president of the pro-export Center for Liquified Natural Gas, said the department should have gone further, including by adopting time frames for action:
“CLNG continues to believe that DOE should adopt procedural changes to eliminate delays in the agency’s review process and reduce ongoing regulatory uncertainty,” he said in a statement. “We have serious reservations about the direction of DOE’s procedural landscape.”
But Moniz pointed out that DOE can’t act on applications until FERC review is completed — which occurred last month, when the commission rejected environmentalists’ request to reconsider its approval of Louisiana’s $10 billion Cameron liquified natural gas project.
“Until three weeks ago, do you know how many decisions we were holding up?” he asked. “Zero. Zero. We had no applications that had gone through the FERC process. Now we have one.”
Moniz declined to outline a decision time line on that Louisiana project, but suggested it would be sooner rather than later. But he acknowledged stakeholders are closely watching the clock. “They will have to judge whether we handled it with alacrity or not,” he said.