Crude export backers eye Democrats as sage grouse enters defense debate

By Geof Koss | 06/05/2015 06:49 AM EDT

Supporters of ending the crude oil export ban are trying to drum up Democratic support ahead of possible amendment votes in the Senate next week, while GOP senators signaled plans to bring the sage grouse and other threatened species into the defense authorization debate.

Republicans yesterday indicated there’s solid support in their caucus for taking on the export ban but conceded that the extent of Democratic support was less clear.

"I think on our side we’re pretty good," said Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). "But you gotta have more than just us."


Competing export amendments by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are pending to the defense measure H.R. 1735, which Senate leaders are hoping to complete by the end of next week.

Cornyn had expected a vote yesterday on his amendment to study whether crude exports could aid U.S. allies or undercut Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime. Before that vote was postponed, he stressed that the amendment was narrow in scope and not meant to entirely lift the ban on exporting crude.

"I support lifting the ban, but this doesn’t do that," Cornyn told reporters yesterday morning. "I think what we need to do is help people understand that it’s more complex an issue and that this is, as Leon Panetta and others have said, a way to protect our national security."

He was apparently referring to a recent Wall Street Journal column from President Obama’s former CIA director making the case for oil exports. The column has been widely touted by oil industry proponents of lifting the ban since its publication.

Markey’s sense of the Senate resolution declares that exports should not be authorized if they increase fuel prices or U.S. reliance on oil imports. Murkowski said yesterday she was still studying the language.

"Well, of course it’s not possible to get a national interest determination if it would increase vulnerability to the country for increased prices," she said.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) yesterday sounded optimistic on mustering Democratic votes for exports but said the prospects may hinge on the legislative context.

"I would say we’re close, but it depends on the bill, whether it’s the right fit and people are agreeable to supporting it on that particular bill," he said, adding that it’s unclear how Democratic leaders will proceed on the defense measure.

Citing the security aspects of oil exports, Murkowski called up her own amendment to repeal the export ban, arguing in an afternoon floor speech that the defense bill provides an appropriate forum for the debate.

Birds and beetles

Republicans are also weighing their options for using the defense bill to push back against protections for threatened species whose habitat overlaps with oil- and gas-rich public lands.

The House-passed defense authorization measure includes a 10-year prohibition on an Endangered Species Act listing for the sage grouse, and a similar provision is included in an amendment filed yesterday by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).

That measure — backed by a number of other Republicans — would also bar the lesser prairie chicken from ESA protections until 2021, while delisting the American burying beetle.

While his name was not among the GOP co-sponsors of Lee’s amendment, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) signaled yesterday that he plans to file a sage grouse amendment to the Senate bill.

"There will be opportunities for negotiated language," he said in a brief interview with E&E Daily, adding that he was optimistic for the prospects of a vote.

Reporter Nick Juliano contributed.