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Story by Fuel Fix

A Republican senator working to accelerate natural gas exports on Thursday took a timeout to work with the Obama administration on the issue.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee had planned to vote on North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven’s gas export bill Thursday afternoon. But Hoeven said he was pulling the bill from the agenda after Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz signaled that some changes to the legislation could lure the administration’s endorsement.

The move also deprives Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., a political win heading into her runoff Dec. 6 against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy. Both support liquefied natural gas exports, and Landrieu has used her chairmanship of the energy committee to advance them.

Hoeven’s bill would force the Energy Department to decide whether proposed natural gas exports are in the public interest 45 days after applications are filed. Roughly two dozen of those proposals to send gas to countries that don’t have free-trade agreements with the United States are still waiting for action at the Energy Department, and some have been pending for more than two years.

But the Energy Department wants changes that would allow it to wait until after a separate environmental analysis of proposed gas export projects. Typically, for onshore natural gas export facilities, that National Environmental Policy Act review happens at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — often spanning months and costing millions.

That kind of change might pacify the Energy Department. But it could alienate would-be exporters who say the Energy Department’s license is an essential ingredient in trying to line up international customers and contracts for the multi-billion-dollar facilities to liquefy gas.

Hoeven’s bill is less stringent than a similar House-passed measure that would give the Energy Department just 30 days to decide on potential gas exports.