At Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, Portman Presses State Department Officials on Work to Open Ukraine’s Ports, Efforts to Supply U.S. Energy to Europe

July 27, 2022 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) questioned Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Jose W. Fernandez on the State Department’s work to stop Russian attacks on Ukrainian ports, so that grain can be shipped to countries around the world. An additional 70 million people around the world that have fallen into poverty since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Russia’s continued blockage of ports have caused starvation rates to rise in some of the poorest parts of the world.

Senator Portman also pressed the witnesses on whether the Biden administration has placed restrictions on agencies that hinders their efforts to work on all energy sectors, including liquefied natural gas and nuclear energy. Senator Portman aske how that would make sense when we are asking European countries to stop buying Russian energy and promising to replace it with energy from the United States.

A transcript of Senator Portman’s questioning can be found below and the video can be found here.

Senator Portman: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman and I was interested in Senator Shaheen’s question with regard to Global Engagement Center. I continue to have a deep concern that we don’t have somebody there on a permanent basis, leading that organization at a time when its mission is so important. So, I hope that you will take that message back, Mr. Secretary. You know, Leah Bray is the acting, but Senator Shaheen, can you think of a more important time for us to actually coordinate our efforts in terms of fighting back on this disinformation and the fact that the State Department can’t do the simple step of appointing somebody permanently to that and giving it a higher status at a time when we are trying to get more funding into that agency is a mystery to me. It’s not a confirmed position. So, Secretary Fernandez, Senator Shaheen and I were just at your alma mater for a reunion and she spoke eloquently about the issues in Ukraine and I tried to keep up. But, there is a lot of interest, everybody showed up because, you know, this is the crisis of our time in terms of the ability to defend democracy and freedom against tyranny and authoritarianism and in this case, you know, a brutal conquest. So, it is a time where the economic statecraft is mixed with the diplomacy that we are normally more engaged in.

“Specifically, you know, right now the U.N. has worked out this arrangement with Turkey, and Russia, and Ukraine apparently to be able to allow some of this grain to be able to go – including to places like Africa where people are literally starving with this global food crisis and yet within 12 hours of that agreement being penned, which said that Russia would not attack any export facilities at any of the Ukrainian ports that were under discussion. They bombed Odessa with four missiles, two of which got through and night before last, I was on the floor of the Senate with a photograph showing the bombing and the impact of it. So, obviously, not to be trusted and that is the kind of message we need to get out to ensure that people do not believe the Russian disinformation in places like Africa. Do you have any update on that, Secretary Fernandez? Where we are with regard to stopping the Russian attacks on the ports, certainly, but then more importantly getting this grain out to the rest of the world?”

Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Jose W. Fernandez: “Thank you, Senator. I’m glad you mentioned our alma mater. Look, Russia is using food as a weapon. We know that. And it’s blaming the U.S. for the consequences. Just the U.N intel since the invasion of Ukraine we have got an additional 70 million people around the world that have fallen into poverty. We welcome the agreement, but at the same time, we just don’t trust Putin. I think that the events that you described show that we have to be careful. What we have done on food security is, we have provided almost $5 billion worth of food aid around the world, we’ve convened the food security minister which attracted over 100 countries to talk about what we are going to do to try and deal with this crisis. We are every day. I tell people that, ‘I wake up thinking about Ukraine. I go to sleep thinking about Ukraine and in between we try to help Ukraine.’ The food security issue goes beyond Ukraine and it shows, and this goes to the misinformation point, that this is not just a European problem. The effects of Putin’s invasion and brutality in Ukraine affects the entire world and we see that in Africa as well.”

Senator Portman: “I agree, my time is limited here so let me get into another result of what Russia chose to do. It was a war of choice, this brutal invasion, and that’s on the energy front. And, you’re right, it’s affecting the entire globe in terms of energy prices, but specifically our European allies. Those in the region, I was in Moldova and Romania recently, their biggest issue they raised with me apart from the Russian invasion generally is energy. My understanding is that despite some good work USTDA has done, Director Ebong, that the Development Finance Cooperation, as an example, has self-imposed restrictions that hinders their efforts to work on all energy sectors, including liquefied natural gas. Is that possible? I mean we are telling Europeans, ‘stop depending on Russia for your liquefied natural gas. Instead, we’ll provide you some.’ And some of our agencies are being told that they can’t work on liquefied natural gas because it’s a fossil fuel, even though its cleaner than the alternative? And even though we are begging the Europeans to do the right thing and stop feeding the war machine with sending $870 million a day, which is roughly what they send for oil and gas. Is that true? Can I hear from either one of you about that?”

Under Sectary Fernandez: “Look, let me be clear. The DFC is not prohibited, not prohibited from energy, from these kinds of projects. What we have done is instituted an additional review for any carbon intensive projects. So, the answer to your question Senator is no, there is no prohibition. I will tell you this, this is something I said earlier. We are now the largest exporter of LNG to Europe. We have tripled our exports this year. Seventy-five percent of our exports—”

Senator Portman: “Let me ask you this. Are they allowed to work on nuclear power? Or is that also subject to restrictions and further review? I mean, I’m in Romania and they are begging for us to help them with nuclear reactors. They want the Import-Export Bank, which is not represented here today, as DFC is not unfortunately because I’d like to talk to both of them. But we have got to help Romania with this. It’s absolutely essential to Moldova also which is obviously in a very vulnerable position. So, anyway, I appreciate the testimony today and echo the comments that some of my colleagues. In terms of us having a more aggressive and more realistic economic aspect to our diplomacy. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”