Moment, Momentous, and Momentum

Moment: A period of time. Momentous: An important moment. Momentum: Mass times velocity.

For those of us who care passionately about helping America’s allies around the globe achieve greater fuel diversity, this has been a momentous week filled with “teachable” moments, leading to some real momentum. Now, as this extraordinary week draws to a close, the question for all who consider themselves “LNG Allies” to ponder is this: Can the momentum be sustained?

Before addressing that key question, let’s look back on all that has happened in the last four days:

  • Jordan Cove Decision (March 24). The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) granted conditional approval for the export of up to six million metric tons per annum of LNG from the Jordan Cove project in Coos Bay, Oregon, to nations without free trade agreements with the United States (non-FTA nations).
  • Senate Hearing (March 25). Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) conducted an oversight hearing on the LNG export issue, her first official act wielding the gavel as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
  • House Hearing on H.R. 6 (March 25). The Energy and Power Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing to examine H.R. 6, the legislation sponsored by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and 40 others to expedite LNG exports to World Trade Organization (WTO) members.
  • House Hearing on Energy Exports (March 26). The House Foreign Affairs Committee held an oversight hearing to discuss not just the LNG export issue, but whether the export of crude oil should also be encouraged.
  • Lithuanian and Hungarian Outreach (March 24-27). In addition to testifying (as outlined above), Lithuania’s Energy Minister, Jaroslav Neverovič, and Hungary’s Special Energy Envoy, Anita Orbán, also met with numerous congressional and executive branch officials and generated substantial positive news coverage.
  • LNG and Ukraine Legislation (March 24-27). The lead Senate sponsors of both major LNG export bills, Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Mark Udall (D-CO) prepared amendments that would have added their bills to the Ukraine assistance package debated on the Senate floor. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) blocked consideration of these amendments.
  • U.S.-E.U. Statement (March 26). President Obama’s meeting with E.U. leaders in Brussels produced a joint statement which states (in relevant part): “The situation in Ukraine proves the need to reinforce energy security in Europe and we are considering new collaborative efforts to achieve this goal. We welcome the prospect of U.S. LNG exports in the future since additional global supplies will benefit Europe and other strategic partners.”

So, that’s the news part of this article. What follows is the insight.

Point #1: Coincidence is Rare in Washington. The Obama administration, sensing that events on the LNG issue were rapidly overtaking them, issued the Jordan Cove non-FTA LNG approval less than 24 hours before the major Senate and House hearings. Chalk this up (most likely) to the adroit leadership of DOE Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz who may look like the MIT professor he was before joining the administration but, nonetheless, operates with ninja-like moves.

Point #2: Democrats Are Starting to Come Around. Beginning with the introduction of the Udall-Begich LNG bill (March 5) and followed by carefully articulated statements by Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) and others during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup on the Ukrainian aid bill (March 13) it is clear that key congressional Democrats (especially senators) are starting to understand that the LNG export issue could either work for them or against them this election year.

Point #3: Geostrategic Issues Are Tipping the Debate. Although ambassadors and ministers from Central and Eastern European governments had been making the rounds in Washington for many months, it took the Ukraine crisis to really get people focused. Special Envoy Orbán said it best during the House hearing on Tuesday: “There is nothing like a crisis to focus the mind, [and] with the post-Cold War settlement crumbling before our eyes, if there was ever a time for [U.S.] leadership, it is now—and if there was ever an issue that would do as much good at as little cost, it is the issue at hand.”

Point #4: Landrieu Could be Pivotal. Sen. Landrieu is a shrewd southern strategist who—like DOE Secretary Moniz—knows that there are many different ways to skin an alligator. And, according to many handicappers, Landrieu is in the midst of the most difficult election of her 34-year political career. Thus, look for Landrieu to work both diligently and corroboratively with her colleagues, especially Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Landrieu’s friend and the Ranking Republican on the Senate Energy Committee) to find a way to address this issue that can actually pass the Senate.

Point #5: The Opposition Hasn’t Gone Away. Anyone who has followed the Keystone XL pipeline issue can tell you that the environmentalists who oppose oil and gas development are committed and well-funded. Some 16 of those groups sent a letter to President Obama recently telling him to go slow on the LNG export issue. In addition, a handful of large U.S. industrial corporations continue to pressure Congress and the administration to limit LNG exports in order to protect “America’s energy advantage.” Like us, they have their congressional champions. But, we have something they don’t have—Momentum!

Point #6: Momentum = Mass X Velocity. Now that the Ukraine assistance legislation has passed both houses and will soon be signed into law by the President, expect the urgency of the LNG issue to recede somewhat. Washington’s political and media leaders—like the rest of us—have a limited attention span. And, although the LNG export issue has had a couple of great weeks on the front-burner, the gas will very soon be turned down (pun clearly intended). Since the velocity of the issue will inevitably decrease, the only way to keep up the momentum is to increase the mass behind the effort.

Therefore, we urge your company, association, or government to join the LNG Allies coalition. By working together, those of us who care deeply about the outcome of this issue (whether for business or geostrategic reasons) can ensure that the present momentum is sustained and a successful outcome secured.