Senator Angus King speaking at the Island Institute in Rockland last Friday, February 20. (Andy O’Brien photo)
Senator Angus King speaking at the Island Institute in Rockland last Friday, February 20. (Andy O’Brien photo)

Last Friday, Senator Angus King made a stop at the Island Institute in Rockland to discuss energy sustainability and economic development. King, who is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said his top three priorities are expanding natural gas pipeline into New England, blocking natural gas exports and supporting renewable energy.

King said that Maine suffers from higher-than-average natural gas costs because of pipeline constraints during peak demand times in the winter. He noted that in January 2014, New England paid an average of $24.50 per million British thermal units, while Philadelphia paid just $3 per million BTUs due to the city's proximity to the Marcellus gas fields.

"Last winter, in New England, natural gas was the most expensive of any place on earth," said King.

In January Senator King and other members of the New England delegation sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission urging it to expedite Spectra Energy's proposed Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline expansion project. Currently, the six New England governors are negotiating a deal aimed at providing a regional subsidy for a massive pipeline expansion. However, environmental groups, fearing that natural gas will crowd out the market for renewable energy, argue that the subsidies are unnecessary, as market and regulatory changes can fix the pipeline congestion problems.

King expressed opposition to a bill known as HR 351 that his committee is considering which would streamline federal permitting for the exporting of liquefied natural gas (LNG). King said that more LNG exports give away America's only current competitive advantage, lower energy prices, to countries that have already enticed U.S. businesses to offshore maufacturing jobs due to their low wages, few labor protections and lax environmental standards. King pointed out that unlike oil, which is priced globally, natural gas prices fluctuate based on geographic locations. He added that while the average price of natural gas in the U.S. is about $4 per million BTUs, in China it's $16. HR 351, known as the "LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act," passed the House on January 28, on a vote of 277-133, with Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin supporting it and Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree voting against it.

On January 29, King spoke out against the LNG export bill in his committee.

"I have been to factories and looked in the eyes of people who have lost their jobs to Asia, to other parts of the world, to Mexico - and they looked at me and said, 'How did you let them ship my jobs away?'" King said. "We have no advantage on wages. We have no advantage on labor protections. We have no advantage on environmental protections. We have today an advantage on energy costs. I cannot understand this discussion that will inevitably lead to higher energy costs."

In a written statement Congressman Poliquin made a similar argument but in support of the bill, arguing that increasing LNG exports will help America become more energy independent and will "create untold thousands of new American jobs while protecting our natural environment."