By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved legislation that would set a deadline for Energy Department reviews of liquefied natural gas export applications, a move aimed at securing swifter approvals for shipping gas overseas.
The legislation, mostly backed by Republicans, would require the department to issue a decision 30 days after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has completed its environmental analysis of an LNG export project.
Passed by a vote of 266 to 150, the bill must still get through the Senate.
The measure, which attracted the support of 46 Democrats, has a slightly better shot at making it through the Democrat-controlled Senate than other energy bills that have typically languished after clearing the House.
Senate Energy Committee head Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, along with Senator Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado, have introduced a similar bill in the Senate that would require a decision within 45 days of FERC's environmental review.
Since the bill would not force the department to approve any applications and a similar measure has support from some Democrats in the Senate, Center for Liquefied Natural Gas President Bill Cooper said he was hopeful the bill could become law.
The differences between the Senate and House measure are not "enough to get upset about," Cooper said on press call Wednesday.
After a nearly two-year pause in the issuance of permits to assess the economic implications of allowing the sale of U.S. gas overseas, the Energy Department approved six LNG export applications in the past year.
But supporters of the House bill said the department is not moving quickly enough, especially in light of Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. Republicans have made the case that U.S. LNG exports would help U.S. allies reduce their dependence on Russian gas.
The bill "would send an immediate signal to our allies and our enemies that the United States is serious about energy security," said Cory Gardner, the Republican sponsor of the legislation.
Booming shale gas development has opened the door for significant U.S. LNG exports, but critics have raised concerns that allowing too much of the nation's gas to be shipped abroad could raise energy prices and harm domestic manufacturers.
Opponents of the measure said it would not do much to help Europe or Ukraine, since the construction of gas export facilities would take years. Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Energy Committee, said the bill was unnecessary since the department is already approving applications.
"We should give DOE the time it needs to weigh the pros and cons of granting an application," Waxman said. "Instead, the bill sets a 30-day deadline that would rush that process."
Despite his opposition to the bill, Waxman said it was an improvement over the original version, which would have had the effect of eliminating the need for Department of Energy review of LNG exports.
(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by James Dalgleish and Dan Grebler)