The problems with Trump's push on natural-gas exports - Axios
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The problems with Trump's push on natural-gas exports

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

President Trump and his top advisers are talking a big game about how American natural gas can help Europe lessen its dependence on Russian gas. But the administration is running into some big obstacles, like cheap fuel prices and a pair of Russia-backed pipeline projects.

Why it matters: Exporting America's bounty of natural gas to Central and Eastern European nations has emerged over the last few weeks as a key part of Trump's energy and foreign policies. But the administration's influence in this area is limited, and the president faces risk of backlash if he goes too far in pushing American natural gas over other nations' resources.

Obstacle 1: Cheap prices

Russian gas is cheaper than American gas, and that isn't likely to change any time soon because it's expensive to liquefy U.S. natural gas so companies can ship it around the world. This dynamic is keeping Russia as the dominant gas supplier to many parts of Europe.

Leading up to and during Trump's trip to Poland last week, he and his administration made much fanfare about a state-owned Polish company's first purchase of American natural gas, received in June. But this was a one-off purchase and not a long-term contract. That's like buying a guest pass to a gym instead of signing up for a more permanent membership: It feels nice in the moment, but it doesn't do anything to change the bigger picture.

A spokesperson for the Polish gas company, PGNiG, said in an email to Axios that its long-term contract with Gazprom expires in 2022, and that it doesn't comment on its long-term contracting plans. Gazprom didn't return requests for comment.

While many U.S. firms are poised to export natural gas, Cheniere Energy is currently the only American company currently exporting the fuel in a liquefied form. Of Cheniere's roughly 140 deliveries since last year, 13% of them have gone to Europe, according to the company, most of that to Western European nations.

No long-term contracts have yet been inked between American firms and energy companies in Eastern and Central Europe, a region most dependent upon Russian gas that has in the past seen its fuel supplies temporarily cut off amid tension with its neighbor. These trends are due almost entirely to price considerations.

"Liquefied natural gas -- due to the high costs of liquefaction, shipping and regasification -- is hard pressed to compete against Russian pipeline gas on a cost basis," said David Koranyi, a director at the Atlantic Council who was in Poland for Trump's visit. Koranyi said Russia makes money at $4 to $5 per 1 million British thermal units, while U.S. companies need closer to $7 or $8 to recoup their fixed costs.

Obstacle 2: Russia-backed pipeline plans

A pair of pipeline projects that would funnel even more Russian gas to Eastern and Central Europe are in the works. If built, they would exacerbate obstacle 1 for American natural-gas companies by making Russian gas even more available and comparatively cheaper.

The Obama administration was opposed to both projects: Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream going beyond Turkey. Top Trump administration officials have maintained a similar position, despite Trump's friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. government has no direct control over deciding the fates of these pipelines, but the Senate recently passed a bill on broader Russian sanctions that allows the Treasury Department to levy sanctions on investment in Russian pipelines built to export natural gas. If Trump signs a bill with that provision, it could have a chilling effect on backing for those projects.

Obstacle 3: Perceptions of self-interest

Some European officials are worried that Trump is pushing American natural-gas exports in Europe purely to benefit American companies, as opposed to encouraging Europe to wean itself off of Russian gas, according to interviews with multiple experts in touch with European officials.

"That impression, valid or not, could backfire, if Europeans start to see U.S. LNG [liquefied natural gas] as just another politicized fuel source," said Tim Boersma, a natural-gas expert at Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy.

Boersma said that when he traveled with a trade delegation of mostly Germans in Russia a few weeks ago, some of the German officials said the United States was opposed to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline mainly because it would eat into a potential market for U.S. companies.

A senior government official acknowledged that perception exists but pushed back on it, saying instead that American natural-gas exports can be a win for both the United States and Europe. Trump himself addressed this head-on while speaking in Poland, indicating the concern has reached the top within the administration.

"Let me be very clear about one crucial point," Trump said in Warsaw on July 6. "The United States will never use energy to coerce your nations, and we cannot allow others to do so."

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Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Marc Short, White House director of legislative affairs, both attempted on Sunday to explain President Trump's silence on the accusations of child sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct against GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore:

  • Mulvaney said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Trump "doesn't know who to believe," and "thinks that the voters of Alabama should decide."
  • Short said on ABC's "This Week" that "the president has expressed his concern" about the allegations against Moore: "As you noted, the president has not gone down to Alabama to campaign for Roy Moore since the primary concluded. We have serious concerns about the allegations that have been made, but we also believe that all of this info is out there for the people of Alabama."
Why it matters: The RNC has pulled its support from Moore and most high-ranking Republicans have repudiated him. Trump hasn't, but he has weighed in on the allegations against Democratic Sen. Al Franken.
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Robert Mugabe, the 93-year-old dictator who led Zimbabwe for 37 years, will resign tonight, Reuters reports. He has already been removed as the leader of his party and early today was negotiating his resignation with military leaders, per the NY Times.

Mugabe was facing impeachment if he did not resign. Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was Zimbabwe's vice president until Mugabe precipitated the coup by placing his wife next in line for the presidency, appears poised to take control. He is known as a ruthless strongman.

Sunday Times of London lead story, "Fear is gone as the people turn on 'thief' Mugabe ... Zimbabweans unite against the tyrant who enslaved them," by Chief Foreign Correspondent Christina Lamb:

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Key move: Broadcom's recent decision to redomicile from Singapore to the U.S. seems to have gotten it over the final regulatory hurdles to buying California-based Brocade, as it had received antitrust approval in July but refiled in October with a U.S. body that oversees foreign investments. It also should aid in buying Qualcomm — although first it needs to make a higher offer.

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A front-page story from the NY Times' Brian Rosenthal, Emma Fitzsimmons and Michael LaForgia breaks down "How Politics and Bad Decisions Starved New York's Subways," starting with "a perennial lack of investment in tracks, trains and signals."

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Top: Harvey Weinstein, former Amazon Studios head Roy Price, director James Toback, New Orleans chef John Besh. Middle: fashion photographer Terry Richardson, New Republic contributing editor Leon Wieseltier, Mark Halperin, former Defy Media executive Andy Signore. Bottom: filmmaker Brett Ratner, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Piven, Dustin Hoffman. (AP)

Some stories move so fast and far, we lose sight of the scale. So here's a freeze-frame on a defining story of our time: Men accused of sexual misconduct post-Weinstein, compiled by AP (click for details on each):

Entertainment:

  • Celebrity chef John Besh
  • Comedian Louis C.K.
  • Cinefamily executives Hadrian Belove and Shadie Elnashai
  • Actor Richard Dreyfuss: One woman alleges sexual harassment. He denies the allegation.
  • Director-producer Gary Goddard
  • Casting employee Andy Henry
  • Actor Dustin Hoffman: Accused by woman of sexual harassing when she was 17. He has apologized.
  • Actor Robert Knepper
  • Showrunner Andrew Kreisberg
  • Actor Jeremy Piven: Accused by three women of sexual misconduct. He denies all allegations.
  • Filmmaker Brett Ratner
  • Comedy festival organizer Gilbert Rozon
  • Producer Chris Savino
  • Actor Steven Seagal: Accused by two women of rape. He denies the allegations.
  • Actor Tom Sizemore: Accused of groping an 11-year-old actress in 2003. Utah prosecutors declined to file charges, citing witness and evidence problems. He denies the allegation.
  • Actor Kevin Spacey
  • Actor Jeffrey Tambor
  • Actor George Takei
  • Writer-director James Toback
  • "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner
  • Actor Ed Westwick

Media, publishing and business:

  • Billboard magazine executive Stephen Blackwell
  • Penguin Random House art director Giuseppe Castellano
  • New Republic publisher Hamilton Fish
  • Mark Halperin
  • Artforum publisher Knight Landesman
  • NPR news chief Michael Oreskes
  • Amazon executive Roy Price
  • Webster Public Relations CEO Kirt Webster
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  • New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier
  • NBC News booking exec Matt Zimmerman
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  • Senate candidate Roy Moore (R.-Ala.)
  • Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel: Accused of sexually inappropriate comments and behavior toward a number of women, Bittel resigned Friday.
  • Florida Democratic state Sen. Jeff Clemens resigned after a report that he had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.
  • Florida Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala is being investigated by the Senate over allegations of harassment and groping. Latvala has denied the allegations.
  • Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover
  • British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon
Sports:
  • International Olympic Committee member Alex Gilady
  • Former South African soccer association president Danny Jordaan
  • Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter
P.S. L.A. Times front page today: "[Brett] Ratner, [Russell] Simmons face new allegations of misconduct: Powerful Hollywood friends shared party lifestyle."
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Losers:

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Why it matters: It's a clear picture of just how widespread this problem is. From the TED talk empire, to Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood, and the U.K. defense secretary, there is no one industry or field that isn't affected by sexual harassment.

Politics

Tech

Restaurants

Advertising

Hollywood

Hotels

  • The Huffington Post reported a study that revealed a majority of Chicago-area hospitality industry employees had been sexually harassed by a guest, had a guest touch or try to touch them, and more.

Science

  • Sexual harassment in the field of scientific research is prevalent, per Vox, when studies occur in remote workplaces (like Antarctica).

Music

  • Kirt Webster, major country music publicist, left his company after sexual assault allegations.

Media

  • Mark Halperin lost his book and HBO show deal, as well as contributing position with MSNBC, after five women accused him of harassment during his time at ABC.
  • NPR news chief Michael Oreskes resigned after two women accused him of sexual misconduct and harassment.
  • New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier lost financial backing on his coming magazine after being accused of sexual harassment.

Fashion

Sports