By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott is co-sponsoring a bill to expedite the exportation of liquid natural gas (LNG), an outcome that would benefit companies in his multi-million dollar personal investment portfolio.
Scott (R-FL) and his wife own hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of stock in two companies that supply, or are seeking to supply, piped natural gas to liquefaction plants where it is turned into LNG for export: Energy Transfer Equity LP and The Williams Companies.
The Scotts also own as much as $750,000 stock in NextEra Energy Partners, a limited partnership formed by Florida Power & Light parent NextEra Energy. The company’s assets include natural gas pipelines in Texas, including the Eagle Ford Midstream Pipeline, which supplies shale gas to processing plants and producers downstream.
Likewise, Scott’s federal financial disclosure form, filed in July, shows the Scotts also have invested millions of dollars in stocks (like Sempra Energy) and hedge funds (like Elliott Associates LP) that invest in pipelines, processing and storage of natural gas, some bound for export as extremely flammable LNG. Sen. Scott’s investment in Elliott Associates alone is valued as being between $5 million and $25 million.
Energy Transfer, through subsidiaries, owns 50 percent of Florida Gas Transmission (FGT), the state’s largest natural gas pipeline, which runs from Texas through the Florida peninsula to Miami-Dade. FGT currently pipes natural gas to an LNG marine fuel production facility in Jacksonville. Facility owner Eagle LNG Partners said this month that it expects final approval soon from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regarding construction of a nearby LNG Export Facility capable of producing up to 1.65 million gallons of LNG – predominantly methane – for export per day.
Scott’s federal financial disclosure form values his and his wife’s stake in Energy Transfer Equity LP as being worth between $600,000 and $1.25 million. The form says Energy Transfer paid them between $65,000 and $150,000 in dividends last year. The numbers are in ranges due to the nature of the government’s disclosure requirements.
The Williams Companies owns the Transco pipeline that pumps fracked natural gas from Texas to New York and connects to numerous LNG export terminals in the Gulf Coast. “Since 2017, Williams has added more than two billion cubic feet per day of capacity to directly serve global LNG export facilities,” Williams President and CEO Alan Armstrong said in a Jan. 8 company press release.
Ambitious expansion plans
Williams has ambitious expansion plans. “Williams is well-positioned to take advantage of the projected surge in LNG demand growth, as its Transco pipeline passes through every U.S. state with an LNG export facility currently under construction,” says the rest of the press release. “Natural gas demand to serve LNG export facilities along the Transco pipeline corridor is expected to grow by approximately 11 billion cubic feet per day by 2025.”
The Scotts own stock in The Williams Companies worth between $150,000 and $350,000.
The two-page Small Scale LNG Access Act, introduced last month, would amend the Natural Gas Act to speed up approvals of exports of up to 51.750 billion cubic feet per year to nations “with which there is in effect a free trade agreement.” The change “shall be deemed to be consistent with the public interest, and applications for…exportation shall be granted without modification or delay.”
American countries with free trade agreements with the U.S. include Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru.
But the Senate’s Code of Official Conduct, Rule 37.4 regarding conflict of interest, would seem to bar Sen. Scott from sponsoring or taking action in support of Senate Bill 816.
“No member, officer or employee shall knowingly use his official position to introduce or aid the progress or passage of legislation, a principal purpose of which is to further only his pecuniary interest” or that of his immediate family or of a “limited class of persons or enterprises, when he or his immediate family, or enterprises controlled by them, are members of the affected class,” says the ethics rule.
“This action does not violate rule 37.4 or any other ethics rules. Every decision Senator Scott makes is in the best interest of Floridians and any assertion otherwise is completely false,” said Scott spokesman Chris Hartline. “It is important to note that this legislation is not new; it merely codifies a Department of Energy rule that is currently in place.”
Scott’s office said streamlining the permitting of small-scale natural gas facilities would strike a blow against Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro by making LNG more accessible and cost-effective to regional allies. “Increasing exports of U.S. liquified natural gas will decrease Caribbean and Central American reliance on Venezuelan oil — action Senator Scott supports in the fight for freedom and democracy,” Hartline said.
Co-sponsors with Scott are fellow Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida and Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy. The bill is now pending in the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
An identical bill is pending in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It is sponsored by North Florida Republicans Michael Waltz of Deland and Ted Yoho of Gainesville.
Rubio has accepted nearly $1.2 million in political contributions from oil and gas interests since he first ran for the Senate in 2009, according to election data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Scott took in $160,000 from oil and gas interests during last year’s campaign which he mostly financed himself by spending $63.6 million of his personal fortune. Records show that Energy Transfer Equity CEO Kelcy Warren gave $250,000 to help finance President Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration, and another $50,000 last June to the New Republican super PAC in support of Rick Scott.
The introduction of SB 816 coincides with two executive orders issued by Trump on April 10 that are intended to speed up construction of oil and natural gas pipelines. The first transfers authority to issue permits for the construction of international pipelines and other export facilities from the secretary of state to the president. The second orders the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to review its regulations regarding the Clean Water Act to remove “outdated” rules that “are causing confusion and uncertainty and hindering the development of energy infrastructure.”
Scott did something similar when he was governor of Florida.
In May and June 2013, he signed into law a pair of bills designed to speed up permitting for what came to be known as the Sabal Trail Transmission, a controversial 474-mile fracked natural gas pipeline that runs from Alabama and Georgia to a hub in central Florida, south of Orlando. The Florida Public Service Commission, whose five members he appointed, unanimously approved construction of Sabal Trail. The Department of Environmental Protection, which Scott oversaw, also supported construction.
Unknown at the time was that then-Gov. Scott owned a stake in Spectra Energy, the Houston company chosen by Florida Power & Light to build and operate the $3 billion pipeline. Sabal Trail Transmission LLC was a joint venture of Spectra, NextEra Energy (parent of FP&L) and Duke Energy.
Today, Sabal Trail is hooked up to Energy Transfer’s Florida Gas Transmission pipeline in Suwannee County, providing access to fracked gas from the enormous Marcellus and Utica shale fields in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.