Lawmakers negotiate end to export ban, throw out major riders

By Manuel Quiñones, Geof Koss, Phil Taylor | 12/16/2015 07:07 AM EST

Congressional leaders unveiled a $1.15 trillion fiscal 2016 spending bill overnight that scraps limits on crude oil exports but includes no major policy riders.

Congressional leaders unveiled a $1.15 trillion fiscal 2016 spending bill overnight that scraps limits on crude oil exports but includes no major policy riders.

Both parties were boasting of victories early this morning.

Democrats say they protected Obama administration priorities and extended renewable energy incentives.


Republicans say funding for U.S. EPA, set to implement many of those White House priorities, will be at its lowest level since 2008 at $8.1 billion.

Negotiations were painstaking and lasted weeks. Late yesterday evening, top lawmakers were still saying a deal on spending and extending an array of tax provisions remained to be completed.

Then, while Republican presidential candidates were debating in Las Vegas (see related story), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) tried to sell his wary caucus on the spending and tax extenders bills, introduced separately but negotiated largely in concert.

"I’m not real happy with the omnibus [spending bill]. There were a lot of riders that we had," said House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.), who said he expected to vote yes on the proposals.

"Because omnibuses are the monsters that they are, there will be people who will be deeply disappointed they didn’t get some of the riders they wanted," Kline said.

Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) said Ryan addressed such concerns. "He said that in a divided government, you’re going to have some concessions," Ribble said. "To get the good things we felt we needed, the Democrats were going to get some of the things they wanted."

Ryan also made the case for Republicans unifying behind the final product, even if they disagree with the process for getting it — including days of backroom deals.

"He feels that it’s time to start fresh," Ribble said, "that we increase our hand and we look better, we’ll have better negotiating positioning, if we have a strong Republican vote."

Republicans are vowing to better follow regular order in the future. "I think many of my colleagues will look at it like I do," Kline said, "that we need to move past this, get this done, put 2015 behind us and get to 2016."

Still, some of the more conservative members of the caucus are less than pleased. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) tweeted that leaders were releasing a few thousand pages of legislation overnight and expecting lawmakers to say how they’re voting just hours later.

"We’re already whipping," said Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), a member of the GOP whip team. She said House leaders would take the caucus’ temperature on the deals during a meeting this morning and at floor votes.

Lawmakers are moving to pass another short-term continuing resolution to keep the federal government open through Tuesday to allow for both the House and Senate to pass the deal. The current one expires today. The House may vote on the omnibus and extenders package as soon as tomorrow.

Oil, taxes

The two packages repeal the 1970s-era crude oil exports ban while maintaining presidential authority to impose limits in times of emergencies.

The deal also includes additional funding for the Maritime Security Program, a Transportation Department program that assists private vessels that aid the U.S. military. Similar provisions were part of a crude exports bill that passed the House in October (E&ENews PM, Oct. 25).

Lawmakers are moving to lift crude oil export restrictions in concert with extending renewable energy production and investment tax credits for five years, while phasing both credits out.

The language would extend the production tax credit (PTC) at 100 percent for 2015 and 2016, while reducing its value by 20 percent each successive year until 2020.

The legislation would extend the investment tax credit (ITC), which allows developers to write off 30 percent of the cost of a solar facility, at that level for three years, while shrinking the allowance to 26 percent in 2020 and 22 percent in 2021.

Democrats scored a victory by winning a modification to the ITC that will allow facilities to qualify for the credit when they "commence construction" rather than when they begin to produce power.

To address concerns that refiners will suffer from exports, the deal allows independent refiners to exclude 75 percent of transportation costs when calculating Section 199 manufacturing deductions.

However, the tax extenders package unveiled by the leaders of the House and Senate tax-writing committees last night only extends the PTC for two years, with the rest of the provisions related to the exports deal included in the omnibus.

That allows House Republicans to support making a handful of the extenders permanent in the tax bill, while the remainder of the green tax credits opposed by conservatives will be carried across the finish line by Democrats, who will likely provide the bulk of the votes for the omnibus.

"This is an overall package, a lot of permanence in terms of tax extenders," Wagner explained. "To me, this is looking at a sum of the whole."

The extenders package, according to a summary, provides two more years for credits for nonbusiness energy property, alternative fuel vehicle refueling property, two-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles and an assortment of biofuel and biodiesel breaks, along with a production credit for American Indian coal facilities.

Policy provisions

The omnibus provides a three-year reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and funds the program at $450 million in fiscal 2016, a major boost over the current level of just over $300 million.

Yet conservationists considered this only a partial victory — and a weak one at that — considering the broader concessions Democrats made on crude exports and the fact that hundreds of members of Congress have already supported permanently extending LWCF.

In a major defeat for the administration, the omnibus spending bill contains no language to reform how the nation plans for fighting wildfires.

A deal emerged earlier this week that would provide disaster funding to cover the increasing cost of blazes — a top priority for the Agriculture Department and a large contingent of conservation and sportsmen’s groups — as well as reforms to expedite logging on federal forests pushed by the timber industry and its Capitol Hill allies.

While the deal carried support from key senators in forested states, it saw pushback from Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) that likely doomed its passage (see related story).

Energy, water

In the Energy-Water section of the omnibus, House Republicans tout the inclusion of a rider targeting the "onerous light bulb standard," a recurring provision that blocks funds from being used to enforce DOE efficiency requirements for light bulbs.

However, the rider has long been viewed as largely symbolic because manufacturers are seen as complying with the legally binding rules.

The bill also continues to make previously appropriated funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository available. Federal officials have said those funds are insufficient for furthering Yucca without additional appropriations for the project, which is vigorously opposed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

The spending bill would allocate $5.99 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers, a $535 million increase from current levels. It would provide $11 billion for energy programs within the Department of Energy, an almost $800 million boost.

The legislation includes increases for fossil fuel and nuclear research and development, including $632 million for coal, oil and natural gas. The Democrats’ summary also highlighted spending for renewable energy.


The bill provides $12 billion for the Interior Department, including substantial funding boosts for its major land management departments.

The Bureau of Land Management would receive $1.2 billion, a $117 million increase over current levels. Fish and Wildlife would get $1.5 billion, a $69 million boost. And the National Park Service would receive $2.9 billion, a $237 million funding hike, as it approaches its centennial.

The bill is largely bereft of policy riders targeting the administration’s lands, wildlife and energy policies, including Republican proposals to block BLM’s hydraulic fracturing rule, to require the delisting of gray wolves in Wyoming or the Great Lakes, or to permit the construction of a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

It does contain two riders that were hitched to the last omnibus: a temporary prohibition on FWS’s listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act and U.S. EPA’s ability to regulate lead in ammunition or fishing tackle.

FWS had no near-term plans to list the greater sage grouse. But the mottled-brown bird is a big victor in the bill: BLM would get $60 million, as requested, to conserve its habitat through activities like juniper tree removals, invasive weed eradication and prescribed burns.

As expected, the bill rejects the Obama administration’s request to establish $48 million in new fees for onshore oil and gas inspections.

The spending legislation would fund the Forest Service at $2.5 billion, about $35 million more than the 2015 enacted level. The bill also provides $545 million, a $19 million boost, for agencies to cull hazardous trees from the forest, and $360 million, a $21 million boost, for logging.

Payments in lieu of taxes (PILT), a program that compensates rural counties with large blocks of tax-exempt federal lands, would receive $452 million, marking the second straight year the program has been funded through the appropriations process.

While PILT is a relief for Western counties, its inclusion in the omnibus bill comes at the expense of other Interior, Forest Service and EPA investments. It used to be funded through mandatory dollars.

Coal, mining riders

Negotiators kept an existing provision prohibiting the administration from changing the definition of "fill material" under the Clean Water Act, a move that could restrict mining.

The omnibus spending bill also includes a provision rolling back the Obama administration’s moves to limit financing for overseas coal-fired power plants.

The deal directs $160 million to boost demonstration projects aimed at commercializing technology to capture and reuse carbon emissions from power plants.

One of the most visible projects, Southern Co.’s Kemper plant, is in Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran’s (R) home state of Mississippi.

The omnibus includes $90 million in abandoned coal mine funding for Appalachian states hit hard by the mining downturn. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers’ (R-Ky.) original proposal was $30 million.

The provision is meant to be a rolled-back version of a White House proposal to speed up the release of $1 billion from the abandoned coal mine reclamation fund.

Another section of the omnibus includes $19 million in aid for dislocated coal mine and power plant workers. Previous spending bills have also included funding.

The legislation, like previous versions, includes congressional scrutiny of mine permits. Appropriators also tasked the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which would keep funding at current $123 million levels, to work with states on the proposed stream protection rule. They did not move to block the rule, however.

Click here for the spending bill.

Reporter Hannah Hess contributed.