A bill that would allow for small-scale exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) will advance to the Full House Energy and Commerce Committee after being approved by the panel's Energy subcommittee, despite Democrats’ opposition. H.R. 4606, Ensuring Small Scale LNG Certainty and Access Act, would provide that applications under the Natural Gas Act for the import or export of small volumes of natural gas shall be approved without modification or delay. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, authored the bill which is intended to open up new markets for American exports.

“There’s interest in the Caribbean and Central America for American LNG although not in the large quantities that the current large-scale domestic exporting facilities were built to address,” Johnson said. “It should not be a partisan vote.”

In opening statements, Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., championed the bill as an avenue to capitalize on the nation’s newfound energy abundance. But Democratic opponents, including Reps. Frank Pallone, N.J., and Bobby Rush, Ill., called H.R. 4606 an attempt to codify a Trump administration proposal to allow small-scale exports.

“But this bill is even worse for the environment,” Pallone said. “Specifically, it declares that all small scale exports are always in the public interest, removes longstanding consumer protections and prevents the public from having an opportunity to know about or provide input on export proposals.”

The bill would allow both imports and exports of small volumes to be granted without modification or delay. The Department of Energy (DOE) currently requires LNG facilities to qualify for this categorical exclusion under DOE’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. Enacted in 1970, NEPA worked in concert with the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, responding to pollution produced in the 1960s.

“This bill removes protections that are currently in place at the Department,” said Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas. “As the bill is currently written, this protection will no longer be required.”

Proponents asserted that the bill was forward-looking and could potentially encourage other companies to arrange small-scale LNG exports. But the Congressional Research Service concluded that H.R. 4606 would benefit just one company - Eagle LNG Partners in Jacksonville, Fla.

“It is inappropriate to carve out some special dispensation for a company per the legislative process,” said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla. “If you believe in the importance of liquefied natural gas as part of our energy mix and being able to support it, you don’t want to undermine safety standards and environmental standards. Because then something’s going to happen. There’s going to be a backlash.”

The bill was approved by the subcommittee 19-14 as Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, assured opponents the full Energy and Commerce committee would have time to address environmental concerns therein. Four additional bills concerning energy security were passed without objection.