The chairman of the House energy committee said oil exports would help U.S. consumers and allies, an endorsement that may help the industry’s lobbying push to end four-decade-old restrictions on overseas sales.
“It’s time that Congress considers revising the ban on crude oil exports,” Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said at a hearing on Tuesday. “Oil exports can be a win for the American people and a win for our allies.”
Previously, Upton has only said lifting the ban deserved consideration. Upton joins his Senate counterpart, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, in his support for ending the four-decade old ban on most oil exports, which Congress put in place after the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s.
Even with the endorsements, the path for a legislative fix isn’t clear. Upton said oil exports “should be on this committee’s agenda this year,” but it isn’t part of a broader energy bill he’s pushing.
Murkowski hasn’t said she’ll include lifting the ban in a comprehensive energy bill she is drafting. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the energy committee, has spoken skeptically of ending the ban.
Jeff Navin, co-founder of Boundary Stone Partners, a Washington-based consultancy, said the endorsements of top Republicans may prove important even if there isn’t enough congressional support to pass legislation.
They can give President Barack Obama more political cover to lift some of the export restrictions, like temporary allowing sales to countries for national security purposes, he said.
Officials from Poland and Lithuania, which are dependent on Russia for most of their oil supplies, have advocated for the lifting of the restrictions on U.S. overseas sales in recent weeks.
Lawmakers though may not be ready to take the plunge, out of fear they’d be blamed should gasoline prices rise after they end the ban, even if there isn’t a connection, Navin said.
“The challenge for crude oil exports is unless you’re in an oil patch in North Dakota, Colorado or Texas, you don’t see a pressing need for this,” Navin said.
Upton said he would work with Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican who has introduced legislation to end the ban, “and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that we get the policy right.”