Last week’s finding by federal regulators that a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporting project in southern Maryland would pose “no significant impact” on the environmental  is great news for the local and state economy, as well as for the United States, when it comes to broader trade and economic benefits from exporting U.S. LNG. Let’s hope the commission quickly follows up to approve the $3.8 billion project at Cove Point, Md.

cove_pointDiane Leopold, president of Dominion Energy, which owns the existing LNG import facility (left) where the export project is planned:

“This marks another important step forward in a project that has very significant economic benefits and helps two allied nations in their efforts to increase their energy security and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. … The Cove Point LNG facility has been in existence for nearly 40 years and this makes the most of existing facilities. This project will be built within the existing footprint and fence line of an industrial site. There is no need for additional pipelines, storage tanks or permanent piers, thus limiting its impact and making an environmental assessment appropriate.”

Recapping some of the economic benefits the Cove Point LNG project would bring:

  • 3,000 jobs during the three-year construction period
  • $125 million per year in value added during construction
  • An additional $45 million a year on average to host Calvert County in the first five years after the project is up and running

Studies, including one done for the Energy Department and another by ICF International, project broad economic benefits for the United States from exporting LNG. ICF says average net job growth will range from 73,100 to 452,300 between 2016 and 2035, with a net effect on U.S. GDP ranging from $15.6 billion a year to $73.6 billion by 2035.

Yet, the U.S. risks losing out in the global LNG marketplace as competitors move to bring exporting facilities online. While the Energy Department has approved seven export projects over the past year and a half, more than 20 remain pending.

The U.S. has abundant natural gas reserves to supply domestic needs and overseas demand. But the window to the global market could close. Federal officials should swiftly approve the pending applications to give the U.S. the best chance to compete for world buyers – trade that would bring overseas wealth to this country, boost domestic energy development and help create new jobs here.

In a written commentary for CNBC.com, former Energy Secretaries Spence Abraham and Bill Richardson argue the time for action is now:

The president and U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz deserve credit for approving seven export permits for natural gas to countries with whom the U.S. does not have free trade agreements. But frankly, the approval process needs to be much faster since there are more than 20 other applications pending. The permit approval is needed to line up financing, customers and complete other regulatory steps. They won't all be built, but the market is better equipped than our government to figure which ones are viable. … America is now an energy superpower. If we act to enlarge the scope of natural gas exports it can help strengthen our own economy and at the same time help our friends throughout the world who need and want a diversity of gas supplies. America should seize this opportunity. It's time to act on energy exports.

Exporting LNG is a win-win prospect for the United States, one that enjoys bipartisan support. In a video produced by the American Council for Capital Formation, former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. says that “clearing the way for LNG exports is something all sides can support.”

Indeed, it is. For jobs, economic growth and a stronger America, we need progress on projects like the Cove Point LNG export facility. The sooner, the better.