Secretary of Energy Rick Perry called on President Trump Thursday to quickly nominate regulators to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to help approve new export facilities for liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Perry praised FERC's approval of the Calcasieu Pass LNG export facility last week, but said having a full contingency of five regulators would help push through 12 more LNG applications pending at the commission. Senior DOE officials previously expressed optimism that the compromise reached on Calcasieu could be applied to the pending applications.
The White House is considering nominating NRG Energy executive David Hill to fill a vacancy on the commission, Politico reported this week, but the chair of the Senate Energy Committee, which oversees FERC confirmations, said she and Perry have not been notified of a nomination by the White House.
Perry's statements on LNG Thursday reflect a broad effort from the Trump administration to boost natural gas exports as part of its "energy dominance" strategy.
Last week, DOE officials celebrated the approval of Calcasieu Pass, the first LNG facility cleared in two years, saying the climate change compromise reached among FERC regulators could provide a "roadmap" for the 12 remaining applications.
FERC's swing vote on the LNG issue, however, pushed back on those comments the next day, saying the statements from DOE officials and FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee may appear to "prejudge" the other applications.
"We just reached an agreement on Calcasieu Path," Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur told Utility Dive. "Yes, we do operate by precedent, so that's now a case in the books, but we have to look at every case individually. That's what we do in all areas of our work."
At a Thursday morning press conference with the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Perry said he "didn’t see any connection" between Calcasieu and the rest of the applications.
"What I saw was we made this decision and we're going to look at each one of these as an individual project and let them stand on their own," he told reporters.
More important than the compromise on climate, he said, is that the White House nominate two FERC regulators — one to fill a current vacancy, and one to replace LaFleur when she steps down later this year.
"I hope they will do that with expedition because at that particular point in time we will have a full contingent of FERC commissioners," he said. "They will know they’re going to be there for a while, learn how to work with each other and with substantially greater expedition to move these [LNG] projects forward."
Murkowski echoed that sentiment after a committee hearing later Thursday morning that also featured IEA chief Fatih Birol.
"I have had conversations with the White House, I've had convos with Secretary Perry" about a nominee, Murkowski told reporters. "We've been waiting for the name and I'm hoping it's going to be here [soon] so we can start processing some things."
After the Calcasieu approval, DOE officials said world economies are eager to import LNG and had "put [the U.S.] somewhat on the defensive" over the impasse at FERC. Birol echoed that sentiment at the press conference and hearing.
"There are huge expectations around the world for U.S. LNG," Birol said. "In the year 2000, there were only five LNG importing countries. In terms of next year, this five will be 49 … This is mainly driven by the expectation of importing U.S. LNG in addition to Qatar, Australia and others."
Despite the agreement on Calcasieu, Murkowski said it may take approval of another LNG-friendly regulator to assure the remaining applications.
"If you've ever really seen a good logjam, you know it's not just one thing that allows for a breakthrough," she said.