(Adds background, comment from Senator Hoeven)
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, Sept 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. Energy Department on Wednesday approved liquefied natural gas exports from two projects, as lawmakers pressed the administration to move quickly to clear a backlog of applications to ship gas abroad.
Sempra Energy's Cameron LNG facility in Louisiana and Carib Energy's small-scale export project in Florida are the first projects to receive final permits from the department to export gas to non-free-trade-agreement countries since Cheniere's Sabine Pass project was approved in 2012.
Until now Sabine Pass was the only project fully permitted at the federal level.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted the $10 billion Cameron project a construction license in June after it was issued a conditional export permit by the Energy Department earlier in the year.
With the final permit from the Energy Department, the Cameron facility will be able to export up to 1.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day for up to 20 years.
Cameron, Sabine Pass and more than two dozen other projects have lined up to sell gas overseas. Companies and some lawmakers have complained the department's process has moved too slowly, with the agency pausing application reviews for nearly two years to examine the economic implications of the LNG exports.
A vocal coalition of heavy industrial companies, led by Dow Chemical, has argued that the push for gas exports could raise domestic energy prices and hurt the economy if left unchecked.
Lawmakers from oil- and gas-producing states welcomed the latest approvals. Senator John Hoeven, of North Dakota, said the orders issued today were a step in the right direction but more must be done.
"You need a dependable, rational and certain process for approval," Hoeven told Reuters.
Hoeven, who has introduced legislation setting a deadline for the department to act on applications, said there is broad support in Congress to address the issue. He said he expects Congress will pass a bill next year expediting the LNG export review process.
Facing pressure from Congress, the Energy Department revamped its review process last month, doing away with conditional approvals.
The Carib project was approved under this new process, which allows the department to issue decisions on applications only after federal environmental reviews are completed.
An environmental review was waived for Carib LNG, a subsidiary of Crowley Maritime Corp, because the exports would be coming from a natural gas liquefaction facility that's already undergone the necessary assessments.
Carib's small operation would move up to 0.04 billion cubic feet a day of gas in LNG shipping containers to countries in the Caribbean and Central and South America. (Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and James Dalgleish)