House votes to unleash oil exports, as White House backs renewables
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 13, 2015 -- The House voted 261-159 Friday to end the 1975 ban on U.S. crude oil exports, leaving the measure 29 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to overturn a threatened presidential veto. Now Senate Republican leaders will try to find the support they need from Democrats to deliver the 67 votes needed there to overturn a veto from President Obama.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, introduced H.R. 702, “To adapt to changing crude oil market conditions,” along with Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas. They're hopeful their bipartisan effort to end the ban will attract additional support as it moves through the legislative process. After the House vote, Barton said “We didn't get the veto override votes but we got close enough to it that we can be optimistic. The vote today gives us reason for optimism because 60 percent of the House was in support of this.”
“This is a bipartisan bill,” he explained. “This bill will help all 50 states . . . It helps low income, it helps minorities, it helps women, it helps every sector of the economy, not just the oil industry . . . Some estimates are this bill, if enacted, would create as many as a million jobs.”
The White House Office of Management and Budget doesn't see it that way. In a statement to House leadership last week, OMB said that instead of ending the export ban, “Congress should be focusing its efforts on supporting our transition to a low-carbon economy. It could do this through a variety of measures, including ending the billions of dollars a year in federal subsidies provided to oil companies and instead investing in wind, solar, energy efficiency, and other clean technologies to meet America's energy needs.”
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, was one of 26 Democrats who joined 235 Republicans in voting to end the ban. Peterson framed his support for the legislation in terms of jobs and rural development. “Studies have shown that lifting the current ban on crude oil exports would create jobs, many in rural areas,” Peterson said. “We have seen the benefits domestic drilling can provide in my neighboring state of North Dakota.”
Urging support for “the use and production of domestic energy,” Peterson added, however, that this support is needed for “not just oil production, but biofuel production.”
In the Senate, where the minority has more leverage than in the House, there's likely to be even more effective support for biofuels and other renewable energy sources. This support could translate into adding provisions to an oil exports bill to include renewing the production tax credit and investment tax credit for wind and solar energy. Another possible way to attract more votes from Senate Democrats could be by renewing the Land and Water Conservation Fund to support the nation's parks and recreation areas. Congress allowed that fund, paid for from offshore oil drilling revenues, to expire Sept. 30. This is the first time in 50 years that the fund has not been reauthorized.
Even in the House, where the minority party's clout is more limited, Barton agreed to amendments designed to attract Democratic votes. He supported a clean energy amendment from John Delaney, D-Md., which added language to the final bill stating that “increasing investment in clean energy technology and energy efficiency will lower energy prices, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase national security.”
In the House debate on HR 702, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., dismissed GOP claims that the bill could generate up to one million new jobs. He said that instead of simply handing multibillion dollar benefits to large oil companies, the House should focus on a long-term strategy to include renewing tax breaks for the wind and solar industries, which he said “actually create far more jobs than will be found in oil production.”
The challenge for supporters of ending the ban is calculating how far they can go in adding support for renewables to attract more Democrats. Anything added risks losing support among Republican senators.
Legislation introduced by Senate Energy Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, S 2011, the Offshore Production and Energizing National Security Act, is ready for floor action and would end the export ban while opening up more offshore areas to drilling. Murkowski says the House vote for HR 702 “sends a strong signal that Congress will lead where the administration has failed.” She also said she would continue working with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., in “pursuing all available options for ending the oil export ban.”
Current U.S. regulations already allow U.S. crude exports to Canada, some exports from Alaska and California, as well as exports of lightly processed “condensate.” There are no restrictions on exporting U.S. gasoline and other refined petroleum products.
Oil producers and pro-oil-exports members of Congress maintain that the export restrictions keep U.S. crude oil prices below world market levels and that removing the restrictions would boost U.S. oil production. But that argument doesn't even persuade all Republicans. Reflecting concerns that unrestricted crude exports would raise costs for U.S. refineries, six GOP members voted against the Barton bill: Pennsylvania's Michael Fitzpatrick and Patrick Meehan, South Carolina's Tom Rice, North Carolina's Walter Jones, and New Jersey's Frank LoBiondo and Chris Smith.