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Former White House Climate Czar Hired By Natural Gas Export Company

Former White House energy and climate czar Heather Zichal has been added to the board of directors of Cheniere Energy, a major Houston-based liquefied natural gas (LNG) export company.

Zichal played a key role in the White House, advising President Obama on energy and climate issues and orchestrating the administration’s first push to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants — a move that effectively banned new coal plants. She left the administration late last year and was one of the last members of Obama’s 2008 campaign team to step down.

Zichal’s board appointment comes after the Obama administration announced it was “streamlining” the permitting process for LNG export terminals. Cheniere is in the midst of getting one of their export terminals approved by the federal government — adding Zichal to their board may give them a political edge over other LNG companies.

Cheniere, however, is already years ahead of competitors in terms of LNG export terminal approvals. The company’s Sabine Pass Liquefaction export terminal in Louisiana is on schedule to export natural gas in late 2015 or early 2016. Cheniere still has another major export terminal waiting for federal approval in Texas, reports SNL.

Even with the Energy Department’s new guidelines for LNG terminal approvals, the process is sluggish and it can years for projects to get the proper approvals and begin exporting. Both Republicans and Democrats have been pushing to speed up LNG terminal approvals in the wake of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, which has threatened Europe’s natural gas supply.

Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall recently introduced a bill that would put a 45-day limit on LNG export terminal approvals. Udall, however, is currently in a heated race against Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, who introduced a bill in the House putting a 90-day limit on LNG terminal approval decisions.

“By speeding up the U.S. Department of Energy’s review of pending liquefied natural gas export facilities, my bill would cut red tape and complement the agency’s newly announced review process,” Udall said. “My legislation also provides the Department of Energy with a common-sense amount of time to consider the environmental and national security implications of each application without unnecessarily delaying the process.”

Currently the Energy Department must approve LNG export applications to countries where the U.S. does not have a free trade agreement. The department will now only look at LNG applications after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has weighed in on them.

According to SNL, Zichal will receive “$180,000 as a Cheniere board member, paid either 100% in restricted stock or 50% in restricted stock and 50% in cash, the company said in its filing.”

Zichal will also receive 6,000 shares of restricted stock, which is worth more than $412,000 based on yesterday’s stock prices.

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