The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Thursday overwhelmingly voted out the nomination of Ernest J. Moniz to head up the Department of Energy (DOE) to the Senate floor.

The nomination cleared the panel by 21-1, with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) casting the only dissenting vote. Scott also voted against forwarding the nomination of now-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to the Senate floor for confirmation (see Daily GPI, March 22).

The Senate could vote on the Moniz nomination as early as next week, but nothing has been scheduled, said a committee spokesman.

“Moniz could become the first secretary of energy who, instead of having to confront energy shortages and scarcity, would oversee an era of abundant carbon-reducing natural gas and dramatic growth of renewable energy technologies,” said Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR).

The committee’s vote was immediately followed by a hearing on DOE’s budget for fiscal year (FY) 2014. DOE Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman was quizzed about when the department would act on the pending applications to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to countries with which the U.S. does not have free trade agreements (FTA), and the status of research into hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

DOE is “very soon going to be in a position to start making decisions” with respect to the pending applications for LNG export licenses, he told Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Senate committee.

She asked Poneman whether “very soon” meant weeks or months. “[I] wouldn’t think it would be months,” he replied. Murkowski also expressed her objection to the Obama administration singling out the oil and natural gas industry to repeal tax breaks (see Daily GPI, April 11).

Wyden questioned Poneman about the administration’s proposed budget cut in a “critically important area” — research into fracking. “I’m going to do everything I can to turn that around,” Wyden said.

At his confirmation hearing last Tuesday, Moniz committed to review the department’s study of natural gas exports, which relied on what some have said is outdated information which failed to examine the regional impacts of exporting LNG.

“We need to have strong analysis grounded in the best data…In terms of the export license question, we certainly want to make sure that we are using data that is relevant to the decision at hand,” he told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If confirmed, he said that DOE under his leadership would make decisions on gas export applications on a license-by-license basis, taking into consideration cumulative impacts, including the impact of exports on the domestic natural gas market.

But Moniz, a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, did not indicate whether he would step up the permitting of applications to export LNG to world markets if he is confirmed by the Senate.

So far, DOE has slow-walked permits for LNG exports to countries with which the U.S. does not have FTA. Cheniere Energy Inc. is the only company to have so far secured DOE authorization to export domestically sourced LNG to both FTA and non-FTA countries from its Sabine Pass LNG export project in Louisiana (see Daily GPI, Aug. 13, 2012).

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