Lugar: Natural gas exports can be a geopolitical weapon

I’ve been focusing a lot lately on the economic bounty that would come as part and parcel of allowing American companies to more freely export natural gas, as fewer restrictions on free trade are reliably good policies for job-and-wealth creation, but Republican Sen. Richard Lugar — who will shortly be leaving Congress after a very long career, hem hem — took a parting legislative shot by pointing out another valuable aspect of freer LNG exports.

Mitt Romney got a lot of flack for his remarks about Russia being our “number one geopolitical foe” during the campaign season, but the man had a point about the former Soviet Union being one of the world’s more nefarious actors. Right now, certain nations are beholden to Russia and Iran for their energy needs, and Lugar thinks the United States could undermine these countries’ influence by simply allowing for a little good ol’-fashioned, American-style market competition on the global scene. The WSJ reports:

Sen. Lugar, who is leaving the chamber at the end of the year, is introducing the “Liquefied Natural Gas for NATO Act,” which would essentially open the door to exports of U.S. gas to members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization who aren’t free-trade partners of the U.S. (Gas exports to free-trade countries are automatically approved; exports to other countries have to go through a long government approval process.)

The idea is to give U.S. allies in Europe, who for decades have lived under the shadow of Russian energy bullying, a way out of their impasse, something that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stressed recently.

Important U.S. allies across Europe depend to a large degree on imports of Russian gas—and Moscow in recent years, unlike during the Cold War, has not shied away from using gas exports as a political weapon. The legislation is meant to accelerate the degree to which U.S. gas can undermine Russia’s dominance in Europe.

At the same time, by offering NATO allies such as Turkey an alternate source of gas, it could help them  wean off Iranian natural gas—which would further U.S. interests in economically isolating Tehran.

Lugar’s pending exit-stage-left means that he won’t be able to see the legislation all the way through, but staffers expect that other senators will pick it up again next year. I don’t doubt it, seeing as how it will likely be another powerful argument for free-trade advocates in the upcoming LNG-export tug-of-war. Allowing for more free trade in no way guarantees that our gas exports would go to our allies, as that would still be determined by the supplies and demands of the free market — but the point is, even the possibility of that outcome is currently prohibited by U.S. policy.