FROM the day he first announced his candidacy in 2010, U.S. Rep. James Lankford has impressed us with his calm, rational, informed demeanor. On a variety of issues, the second-term Oklahoma Republican congressman holds views steeped in practicality rather than ideology.
It's no surprise Lankford has risen quickly through the leadership ranks in the Republican-controlled House. He's taken a leadership role on the issue of exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG), an issue that the Obama administration is slow-balling — much like it is the Keystone XL pipeline project.
This is a “green” issue but it's hardly black and white. Natural gas is a relatively clean fuel but it's also a fossil fuel. That alone makes it suspect to the administration and the lobbyists who dictate administration environmental policy.
Natural gas producers understandably want to increase the market for their product. This would be of great benefit to Oklahoma-based producers and state revenues. Just as the State Department has held up approval of Keystone, the Energy Department is sitting on LNG export applications from about 20 countries.
This is good news for manufacturers, who fear that broadening the market for gas will raise prices for them. It's bad news for natural resource states such as Oklahoma.
At a House subcommittee hearing this week, Lankford sparred with an Energy Department official over approval of LNG export applications. The agency concluded last year that gas exports would benefit the U.S. economy, but it now says it's analyzing that conclusion and 200,000 public comments on LNG export policy. In other words, the administration is studying its study. Then, we presume, it will study the study of the study.
Instead, it could approve the applications or at least say when a decision will be made. But that's too easy for an administration so cognizant of how the Sierra Club views its every move. We understand why the largest consumers of gas are worried about price bumps. They've enjoyed a tremendous bargain as gas prices have slumped in recent years. And this country does need more domestic manufacturing.
But just as those manufacturers should have a right to market their products worldwide, gas producers should be given every opportunity to export their resources. Other countries with natural gas reserves will do so, just as Canada will export oil to Asia if the administration disallows the Keystone pipeline.
The export imbroglio offers a classic example of Washington policy debates. This country has an abundance of natural gas that's cheap and clean. Other countries would like to buy some of it. Seems simple enough, but the administration has been pushing a revival of domestic manufacturing. It's nervous about embracing a fossil fuel initiative.
“So we're looking at a very wide range of factors that Americans care about — the balance of trade, creation of jobs, GDP (gross domestic product), the impact of prices on consumers and American families, the impact of prices on American industry, energy security, environmental issues,” Christopher Smith, acting assistant secretary for fossil energy at the Energy Department, said at the subcommittee hearing.
Translation: We're trying to figure out the political costs of doing this and the net loss or gain of campaign donations depending on what we do.
Lankford was having none of this. He pushed back with hard questions that needed asking. But the congressman can't make the administration do anything. He can only make a calm, rational, informed case for exporting LNG.
Which he has done, repeatedly.