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Energy Secretary Moniz promises LNG export decisions this year

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Susan Walsh/AP/File

(Read caption) Ernest Moniz speaks after being sworn in as Energy Secretary in May, in Washington. Dr. Moniz, a nuclear physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, replaced Steven Chu, who served as Energy secretary in President Obama's first term.

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By the end of the year, newly appointed Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will tackle one of America's most pressing energy issues: How much liquefied natural gas (LNG) the United States will export to other nations.

"[W]e will expeditiously work through the remaining applications [to build LNG export terminals], reviewing each one on a case-by-case basis to ensure that all approvals are in the public interest," Mr. Moniz said Thursday in prepared remarks for his first congressional testimony as head of the Department of Energy.

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When a member of the House Energy and Power Subcommittee asked the secretary whether he would make decisions on export applications this year, he responded: "Yes, absolutely," but declined to be more specific.

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It's a sensitive subject, because the US shale boom has created a glut of natural gas. Energy companies are eager to further open up that shale gas production to world markets and push depressed gas prices back up. But those prices have benefitted residential and industrial consumers. More exports could mean an end to cheap electricity from the natural gas oversupply. 

Increasing LNG exports would have a positive net impact on the economy, according to a 2012 report from the Department of Energy (DOE). That assessment drew criticism from some lawmakers who said it drew on older data that did not accurately reflect the nation's current energy landscape. 

In May, two days after Mr. Moniz was confirmed as Energy secretary, the DOE approved the nation's second LNG export terminal – a move that suggested a trend towards a pro-export policy. It was the first approval since 2011.

The momentum slowed a week later when Mr. Moniz called for additional research before approving any more of the roughly 20 applications to export LNG.

In his testimony Thursday, Moniz emphasized President Obama's "all-of-the-above" approach to energy policy, calling for increased natural gas production and the development of low-carbon technologies.

Sworn in May 21, Moniz will oversee a department with a proposed FY 2014 budget of $28.4 billion. That's an 8 percent increase over the $1.75 billion enacted last year. 

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Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.