As Congress Considers Crude Exports, Democrats Name Their Price

  • Republicans seeking to lift ban on exporting U.S. crude
  • Democrats want renewable energy measures in exchange

Democrats in Congress are putting a high price on lifting the 40-year-old U.S. ban on crude oil exports.

“At the top of the list is a long extension” of wind and solar tax breaks, Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said Wednesday. The tax breaks would need to be renewed for at least 10 years and should be “tied in terms of size and scope” to benefits that oil companies receive from lifting the ban, he said.

Repealing the oil-export restriction is one of several riders lawmakers are considering for a year-end spending bill to fund the federal government through Sept. 30, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, said. The text of the legislation probably won’t be ready this week, he said.

For two years, lawmakers have considered abolishing the ban on most oil exports -- established to address energy-supply shortages during the 1970s -- and the issue finally may be reaching its climax as Congress wraps up its business for the year. The House in recent months has passed two bills that would lift the ban, though the Senate hasn’t acted. Supporters are seeking to attach the measure to must-pass legislation, though Democrats are seeking a trade-off.

Pelosi’s Demands

“We’re saying, well, if you want to do that, are you willing to give up the riders negating climate? Are you willing to expand the land and water conservation fund? Are you willing to do tax credits for solar that really advance that?” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said Tuesday night on the “Charlie Rose” show on PBS with interviewer Al Hunt of Bloomberg News.

Complicating the debate is a round of last-minute lobbying by industry behemoths. While the American Petroleum Institute and oil producers including ConocoPhillips and Continental Resources Inc. favor repeal, some refiners want to retain the trade limits. The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a trade group for refiners, said last week it opposed linking repeal to the extension of renewable energy credits. Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth, also oppose linking the issues.

Given the complications in Congress and the White House’s threat in October to veto a House bill to end the crude-export restrictions, Washington analysts have been skeptical. In a research note on Tuesday, ClearView Energy Partners LLC placed the odds of repeal at 15 percent. Peter Cohn, an analyst at Height Securities LLC in Washington, said he’s upped the odds this week from 20 percent to 40 percent given the congressional negotiations.

Supporters of repealing the crude-export restrictions are cautiously optimistic.

“I think we’ve got a good opportunity to get it and we just need to keep pushing it on the merits,” Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, said in an interview Wednesday in the Capitol.  “It’s a ‘we’ll see’ item like a lot of other things,” he said.

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