Environmental spending, riders remain contentious

By Manuel Quiñones | 12/15/2015 06:47 AM EST

Energy and environment spending and policy issues remained sticking points last night in the ongoing negotiations over an omnibus appropriations bill and related efforts to extend a list of tax provisions.

This story was updated at 9:03 a.m. EST.

Energy and environment spending and policy issues remained sticking points last night in the ongoing negotiations over an omnibus appropriations bill and related efforts to extend a list of tax provisions.

But the end is in sight, said lawmakers, and supporters of lifting decades-old restrictions on crude oil exports are expressing optimism about a policy change in their direction.


A deal could become public as soon as today. With federal spending authority running out tomorrow, another short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open is likely.

"I really thought we were going to be done over the weekend," said Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, detailing a roster of meetings. "Then things got slow."

"I think we’re almost 95 percent there in terms of our money issues," Mikulski said. "I think they’ll be resolved when the poison pill riders are."

Mikulski conceded that environment agency funding remained a disagreement and said congressional leaders were handling policy riders. "I’m not the rider lady anymore," Mikulski quipped.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said he and other lawmakers have continued lobbying for a rider to block U.S. EPA’s Clean Water Act jurisdiction rule.

"We’re having a hard time on the riders. A lot of pushback on the other side on all those provisions," Hoeven said. "Still going back and forth on some of those, but tough sledding."

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) expects a deal to include reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund. "I don’t know how long. It will certainly be longer than a year. It won’t be permanent," Burr told reporters.

He added, "My colleagues ought to know right now I’m going to come back and press them all year long for a permanent reauthorization."

House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said he’s open to a reauthorization but will continue fighting for reforms to the program.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) was pushing to boost funding for coal technology projects, reported the Associated Press, particularly Southern Co.’s Kemper carbon capture plant, which is near completion but dramatically over budget.

Oil exports

Democratic leaders and the White House continue leaving the door open to giving Republicans a policy win on lifting current restrictions on oil exports in return for concessions.

"I’m kind of cautiously optimistic," said Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.). "I don’t want to mess up anyone else’s deal. It’s critical we lift the ban."

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he’s on board with exports "as long as we have the language in there that gives consumers protection in case prices go up, the president can cut off the exporting."

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.)floated a proposal to boost refineries potentially disadvantaged by oil exports. Hoeven said, "That would be challenging just because of the cost."

Republican concessions to Democrats, many of whom are against crude oil exports, may include putting aside some demands on policy riders or agreeing to extend renewable energy tax credits that are controversial among many within the GOP.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a GOP backer of renewable tax incentives, said the outlook depends on how large the tax package deal turns out being.

"If it’s a little package, there will be a two-year extension," he said. "If it’s a big package, it depends on how much Republicans had to give to the Democrats to get a lot of stuff we want."

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) yesterday evening said a broad deal would be difficult. Some time later, he appeared more optimistic.

"I think we’ll get it done. I think it will be fair to both sides," he said. "I’m hoping for the bigger deal. If I can play it right, both sides should get out of here feeling pretty good."

Hatch said the spending and tax bills would likely move forward separately, but the end result was up to the leadership. "I expect us to be through by Friday," he said, "maybe even Thursday, if we’re lucky."

House Republican leaders held a brief conference call with members last night and will discuss the emerging deal in a meeting this afternoon. The issue will also be the focus of policy meetings among senators from both parties.

Talks seems to be focusing on a Thursday endgame. "I would hate to be here another weekend," Burr said. Manchin said, "I think we’re going to be here awhile."