Because of our large, over-involved, and market-distorting federal bureaucracy that proclaims to posses the all-knowing wisdom necessary for determining the selective cases in which free trade is or is not of net benefit for the American people — rather than instead allowing consumers, businesses, and the free market together to effortlessly self-determine those oh-so-difficult cases — the battle over whether or not to allow more energy companies to export natural gas to foreign markets is still raging on just as fiercely as ever. The fact that the U.S. government has so many rules and regulations that at one turn actively support and promote free trade for some industries but then constructs dicey trade barriers for others is a truly impressive testament to the foothold of special interests, and there are all kinds of parties with a dog in the liquified natural gas (LNG) export fight.
The main argument against increasing natural gas’s export capacity goes something like this: Allowing American companies to sell to foreign markets would expose natural gas to heightened demand, which in turn would raise the price of natural gas for domestic consumers as well. …Which is a singularly stupid discouraging argument, seeing as how these American companies, the larger number of employees they would hire, and the American economy at large would be the beneficiaries of these higher prices. What these export opponents really mean to say is that niche manufacturing, chemical, and miscellaneous interests that use a lot of natural gas (not to mention the environmentalist types who’d like to see the government put a stop to this pesky shale gas boom) are applying steady lobbying pressure to prevent prices from rising, even though multiple studies have concluded that the effect would only be a modest one.
Even the NYT has already thrown their support behind the idea of furthering natural gas exports, and the Washington Post is on board, too, as they describe in a recent editorial pointing out the industry’s little victory last week with the Department of Energy:
On May 17, the Energy Department gave a Texas company permission to export natural gas, basing its decision in part on a study it commissioned that concluded the country would benefit from expanding gas exports — in terms of its trade balance, incomes and economic growth. In every scenario the experts examined, those benefits outweighed the potential downside — exports putting modest upward pressure on natural gas prices. In fact, the authors found, gas prices probably would rise by some 65 cents per thousand cubic feet — about 13 percent above a business-as-usual scenario and far below what Americans were paying for gas only a few years ago. In other words, the effect on consumers would be relatively small, and U.S. manufacturers would continue to enjoy a competitive advantage relative to those in countries with higher gas prices.
Even so, the critics may be finding more success than that announcement suggested. Last Tuesday, the Energy Department’s new head, Ernest Moniz, said that he will conduct his own “review” of the available analyses — though he won’t commission any more studies — before issuing any more export permits, a score of which are pending before his department. He said that he had made a “commitment” to do so to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the committee that considered his nomination and an opponent of gas exports. Even more ominously, Mr. Moniz said that, pending his review, “everything’s on the table.”
While the Obama administration takes their sweet time trying to come up with more reasons to delay and ways they can appease the relevant business and radical green lobbies and the politicians who cater to them, however, there are at least twenty other export applications just twiddling their thumbs on the energy-development sidelines. …I find myself nonplussed. Not only is natural gas the main factor in the United States’ lately decreased carbon emissions, but we’re currently sitting pretty with a labor force participation rate of a pathetic 63 percent, while energy companies champ at the bit to merely be allowed to do perfectly legitimate and competitive business in the global market. What a mess.