- - Monday, March 10, 2014

Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s power doesn’t come from his KGB background. It comes from Russia’s aggressive use of its oil and gas resources. That makes Ukraine and much of Europe dependent while Russia reaps the revenue bonanza that powers its military.

Take that away and Mr. Putin has to go back to staging wrestling matches with drugged animals.

The U.S. doesn’t have to beat the Russians with guns: We can beat them economically, if our government will simply let it happen.

We have the world’s largest natural gas resources. Much of Europe is begging us to replace Russia as their energy supplier, at least in large part. We could liberate nations from Mr. Putin’s economic blackmail while providing America a huge economic boost.

The barrier is our own regulations: Mr. Obama, tear down this wall.

Exporting our natural gas to Europe is a win-win-win that:

• Undercuts Putin’s power.

• Frees Ukraine and Europe from Russia’s energy vise-grip.

• Adds tens of thousands of jobs and billions in exports to the U.S. economy.

What does President Obama propose instead?

We’re not a major trade partner with Russia, so cutting off trade doesn’t hurt Russia, but it would hurt some American companies.

Denying U.S. visas to some unnamed mystery individuals sounds like the time when Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev was once denied the chance to visit Disneyland. He ridiculed us, asking if we had rockets hidden there.

Mr. Obama’s Fantasyland approach to Mr. Putin’s aggression invites similar ridicule; he’s chasing rainbows. But the only color that counts is red, as in our red tape that is helping the Reds in Russia.

Mr. Putin doesn’t need to use guns when he can simply shut off the gas. As former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told a Canadian business group over the weekend, “One of the principle tools of intimidation that Russia has used is their energy resources — both in the winter of 2006 and then on Jan. 1, 2009, when the giant Russian energy company Gazprom shut off all natural gas exports to Ukraine.”

“That was a wake-up call, and it sent a chill, not only across Ukraine but indeed across Europe,” she said. “There are cases when one nation tries to use its energy supply to dominate or intimidate another. Russia’s behavior toward Ukraine is an obvious example.”

That’s why not only the Ukraine but other nations want the U.S. to compete with Russia.

Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have just written House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, asking Congress to speed up approval of natural gas exports.

“The presence of U.S. natural gas would be much welcome in Central and Eastern Europe,” their letter says, “and congressional action to expedite exports to America’s allies would come at a critically important time for the region.”

Fortunately, Mr. Boehner and some others are willing, although Mr. Obama is mum on the topic.

We’re flaring natural gas from a reported 1,500 sites in the U.S. — burning it as a waste byproduct because we have a glut of overproduction.

However, our federal red tape makes exporting it a monstrously complicated process.

With more than 300,000 miles of domestic natural gas pipelines, we can deliver the product to our coasts. But building the export terminals to put it onto natural gas tankers for shipment overseas requires federal permits.

With its usual gamesmanship, the Obama administration’s Energy Department brags on its website that it has “approved” applications to export 38.5-billion cubic feet of natural gas per day in recent years. That is grossly misleading.

To quote from one of the typical “approvals”: “this Order is conditioned on [applicant’s] satisfactory completion of the environmental review process … and on issuance by Department of Energy/Fossil Energy of a finding of no significant impact … Additionally, the authorization is conditioned on [applicant’s] on-going compliance with any and all preventative and mitigative measures … imposed by federal or state agencies.”

The additional requirements continue like this for multiple pages, including those for extensive and un-redacted filings of all foreign sales contracts of LNG (liquified natural gas). The federal grant to operate an LNG terminal is only good for 25 years of operation, which is quite limited for a project that typically requires several billion dollars to construct.

This is part of what Mr. Boehner labels as “an approval process that is excruciatingly slow and amounts to a de facto ban on American natural-gas exports,” as he wrote Friday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

There are some Democrats willing to act, such as Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat who has authored a bill to expedite the process.

In the House, Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, California Republican, wants to speed up approval as part of a package response to Mr. Putin’s moves. That bill cleared committee and should have a quick House vote.

But in trying to accelerate the natural gas export process, Mr. Royce encountered the same knee-jerk reactionaries who already are holding back America’s economy and hurting our global standing.

With Mr. Royce’s support, Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican, proposed language declaring it would be U.S. policy “to increase natural gas exports to Ukraine and other European states and former Soviet Republics to reduce Russian control of energy exports.”

Even that non-binding language ended up being watered-down due to opposition from members such as Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat who expressed concerns over anything that involves drilling and fracking.

The discussion set off some unseemly moments in committee that exemplified why Congress may be more unpopular in the U.S. than Mr. Putin is. Trying to have things both ways were several members, notably Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican who claimed he supported Mr. Poe’s amendment but would not vote for it because it would undercut congressional “unity” on Ukraine.

“The most important thing we can do as a U.S. Congress is to show unanimity on this issue,” Mr. Kinzinger said. “The addition of this [natural gas] amendment will create division that will be perceived by the Russians as a Congress that is not united in support of the Ukrainian people.”

Just imagine Vladimir Putin’s comments in the Kremlin: “Comrades, this action by the U.S. Congress is nothing but weak and puny words — but it scares me that they voted for it unanimously!”

Mr. Kinzinger claimed it’s better to be united behind a weak policy than to promote a strong policy that has opposition. He was not alone. Also speaking out for this approach were Rep. Gerry Connolly, Virginia Democrat, and several others. So Mr. Poe’s language to expand our natural gas exports was diluted in the final version of the bill.

That’s our problem. So long as Congress takes a namby-pamby approach, they are mimicking Mr. Obama’s weak foreign policy — which even The Washington Post says is based on “fantasy.”

That gives Mr. Putin freedom to continue his aggression. That means Ukraine and other nations will find their freedoms are shrinking — just like their respect for America.

Listen to Ernest Istook’s radio talk show, noon to 3 p.m. Eastern, Monday through Friday, online at www.kzlsam.com Subscribe to his free newsletter: http://t.co/tB4CluIPm5