WASHINGTON, March 4 (UPI) -- Getting more U.S. natural gas to the international market will reduce Russia's influence in Eastern Europe, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said.
Upton, chairmen of the Natural Resources Committee, has described the natural gas sector as the "bright spot" in the U.S. economy. Now it's time to use that advantage for international gain, he said, through more exports of liquefied natural gas.
"Expanding U.S. LNG exports is an opportunity to combat Russian influence and power, and we have an energy diplomacy responsibility to act quickly," he said in a statement Monday.
European consumers get about 20 percent of their natural gas from Russia, though most of that runs through a Soviet-era pipeline network in Ukraine.
Washington has expressed concern about Moscow's reaction to the February ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Kremlin ally. Upton said bureaucracy at the U.S. Energy Department meant Washington couldn't use its full arsenal to counter Russian influence in the region.
"We will continue to advance legislation and develop new proposals that allow market forces and technology to help expand Eastern Europe's access to affordable energy beyond Russia," he said.
The U.S. government needs to determine if LNG exports to countries without a U.S. free-trade agreement are in the public interest before consenting to export licenses.
U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz expressed support for LNG exports when he took office in May.