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Panel hears effort to loosen gas exports

Debate centers on Sen. Gardner’s proposal’s effects on small firms

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner wants to loosen regulations on exporting natural gas. Opponents argue doing so would hurt small businesses by increasing energy costs.

“Colorado is at the center of the American energy revolution. The natural-gas industry helps power our state’s economy and provides thousands of jobs from the Western Slope to the Eastern Plains and beyond. I’m honored to join my colleagues in leading this effort to streamline the permitting process for LNG exports and boost the potential for future energy development throughout the country,” Gardner, R-Colo., said in January when he proposed a bill to expedite Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) exports.

But some traditional allies of Republicans – small businesses – question easing rules on LNG exports.

Tony Gagliardi, Colorado director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said, “If increasing exports lowers the supply, that would raise domestic costs, and we would oppose that.”

The price of domestic natural gas was a major point of contention during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship on Tuesday.

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass, and Tyson Slocum, a witness from the liberal-leaning consumer group, Public Citizen, cited statistics from the Energy Information Agency that predict an increase in prices directly proportional to the amount of gas that would be exported.

“If half of the available gas is exported, there will be a 50 percent increase in energy costs here. It’s supply-and-demand 101,” Markey said, echoing concerns that easing export rules for liquefied gas would increase costs for the energy-intensive manufacturing businesses.

Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of La Plata County Economic Development Alliance, reached by phone, said given the current surplus in gas supply, easing export rules wouldn’t be an immediate problem.

He said, “Ten years from now, maybe gas prices will be where they were in 2007 with increasing exports, and that would be a problem.”

Zalneraitis said because the Four Corners doesn’t have a large manufacturing industry, but does have significant natural-gas resources, an increase in energy prices would be a net benefit for Durango.

mbaksh@durangoherald.com. Mariam Baksh is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern at The Durango Herald.

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