The United States should not export hydrocarbons. Right now, there is a big wedge between the U.S. price of gas and the world price. That is a great thing for American consumers, especially industrial consumers, and it insures that the coal industry will die even more quickly than it would otherwise. The price is lower export revenues, but the benefit from those exports will be almost entirely captured by the producers of the hydrocarbons. Why not transfer that bounty to the American people? As an added bonus, without exports the U.S. market will remain disengaged from the world market, insulating us from foreign demand and supply shocks.
Bernard Guerrero asks the question: can we prevent exports? The answer: ¡Sí, se puede! And yes, it is constitutional.
At least four different statutes give the President the authority to restrict hydrocarbon exports. The first is the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, which just flat-out says that the President may restrict exports of all hydrocarbons “under such conditions as he determines to be appropriate and necessary.”
The Export Administration Act of 1979 adds some details. (Ah, for the days when Congress gave laws nice simple titles.) Section 3, Article 2, of the Export Administration Act declares that the U.S. can “restrict the export of goods where necessary to protect the domestic economy from the excessive drain of scarce materials.”
Section 7 gives the details of how the power in Section 3 would be implemented. It gives the President the power to require export licenses within 15 days of the publication of the restrictions in the Federal Register by the Commerce Secretary. The President is required to “allocate a portion of export licenses on the basis of factors other than a prior history of exportation,” and is allowed to impose license fees. (I suspect that the Supreme Court would strike down the license fee bit, but even if they did, it would not affect the power to require the licenses and limit them to, well, zero.)
The Export Administration Act also automatically bans the export of oil and gas from Alaska without a presidential waiver, unless it goes to Canada or Mexico to be refined in exchange for an equal amount of their crude. (The Act does allow the U.S. to export an additional 50,000 bpd to Canada for its own consumption.)
The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1978 bans the export of offshore oil and gas unless the President grants a waiver.
Finally, FERC has to approve all export terminals.
Add it up, and all the United States needs to do to keep natural gas prices low is make the decision that we want to do it.
Now, this is all for natural gas. Oil is different. In part that is because an oil export terminal is a lot easier to build ... but that does not matter. Not only do the above laws apply to oil, but the long-forgotten but-not-repealed Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 effectively bans oil exports without a presidential finding, as long as such oil passes through an interstate pipeline. (Strangely, oil moved by rail cars is not subject to the Act, although the President can of course use the Export Administration Act to restrict its exports.)
What is the problem with oil? Well, one word: Canada. Another post forthcoming.