The House Rules Committee late last night rejected efforts to add a repeal of the crude oil export ban to the chamber’s multiyear highway bill, closing off what many lawmakers thought was a promising legislative avenue for ending the decades-old restriction.
Under a structured rule that will guide the remainder of floor debate on H.R. 22, the panel cleared dozens of amendments for consideration by the full House, including a sweeping measure to boost preparedness for disruption to oil and gas deliveries stemming from natural disasters and others aimed at the operations of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. But none of a trio of amendments that would have lifted the crude export ban was made in order, dealing a blow to export backers, who in recent days had pushed to see them included in the House highway bill.
Key senators yesterday offered mixed views on whether adding a repeal of the crude exports ban would threaten prospects for final passage of the transportation measure.
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said ending the ban and a multiyear highway bill are "two of my favorite things" but cautioned that congressional leaders would have to carefully consider the effects of mixing the two.
"I would do anything to lift that ban," he told E&E Daily yesterday, ahead of the Rules meeting. "However, not if it makes a difference as to whether or not we can get our highway bill. I don’t think that’s the situation, but we’d have to weigh that."
He noted that the inclusion of a crude exports amendment might sour some Democrats on the highway bill, including EPW Committee ranking member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), but probably "not enough" to have her oppose the legislation she’s labored so hard on.
"People are now changing their attitude about that," Inhofe said of crude exports.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), a fervent exports backer, said the highway bill was an option worth considering for ending the crude ban. "I don’t think we should let any opportunity pass by without having a conversation," she told E&E Daily yesterday afternoon.
However, Heitkamp added that tying exports to the highway bill could complicate the push in the upper chamber.
"I think it will be more problematic given the need for a very broad bipartisan coalition in the Senate," she said, noting that the transportation bill passed "with a very interesting and very bipartisan mix."
"And something like this might skew the analysis, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try," she added.
Heitkamp, who has become a point person among Senate Democrats and the White House for talks on a possible legislative deal that would end the export ban in exchange for more tax support for renewables, said it was unclear whether mixing exports with the highway bill would make it more difficult to reach such an agreement.
"People ask me really how do I think about it," she said. "I think about negotiating this the way I would a stand-alone provision, like we did with the Ex-Im Bank — if this were going to move, what we need to do to get a 60-vote majority in the Senate. That’s how I approach the crude oil exports. And then you have a package that has enough base support that regardless of where you attach it, there’s people who will vote for it as an amendment."
A coalition of conservative groups yesterday attempted to foreclose that option, urging lawmakers to allow a crude exports amendment to the highway bill, but specifically warning against linking the ban to an extension of key renewable tax incentives (E&ENews PM, Nov. 3).
And a coalition of environmental groups today is running an ad in Politico urging lawmakers to retain the crude exports ban, which it portrays as a giveaway to "Big Oil."
"Lifting the crude oil export ban would imperil our communities and our climate. The only beneficiaries of such a relaxation of oil regulations would be the profit sheets of Big Oil companies," said David Turnbull, campaigns director of Oil Change International. "Environmentalists, consumer groups and our millions of members stand united in defense of the crude export ban."
But Big Oil’s top lobbyist, American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard, said yesterday that export backers will find the right legislative vehicle sooner or later.
"Our view is you need to find whatever avenue you like to," he said. "Our view is you need to get it done, you need to get it done as soon as possible, and we believe you can get it done by the end of the year."
At a Rules Committee hearing yesterday, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the lead sponsor of one of the amendments to repeal the oil export ban, argued that it was a "common sense" approach that would create jobs and yield revenue for the Highway Trust Fund. Committee members, who later adopted the rule on a voice vote, offered no explanation for specific decisions to allow some amendments to go to the floor while scuttling others, including a proposal by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) to raise the federal gas tax.
The panel also did not make in order an amendment by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) to alter U.S. EPA’s new rule for coal ash disposal (E&E Daiy, Nov. 3).
The debate over coal ash, which is used in construction, including for roads and highways, was part of the previous transportation bill discussions in 2012. It’s unclear whether it will emerge again this time around.
The committee blocked floor consideration of an amendment by Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) to make sure the Army Corps of Engineers finishes a National Environmental Policy Act review of the Gateway Pacific coal export terminal in Washington state.
Zinke and other pro-coal lawmakers are concerned about a Lummi Nation demand for the Army Corps to halt the permitting process surrounding the proposal. They claim it would violate treaty-protected fishing rights.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a top defender of Native American rights, asked Zinke, "If treaty rights have been violated, why would you go through all the rest?"
Zinke, pointing to the Crow Nation’s support of coal exports from his state, said the amendment "simply has to do with let’s follow the process."
Zinke and other lawmakers have introduced versions of the amendment to other bills and will likely do so again.
Like its Senate counterpart, the House transportation measure would authorize six years of federal road and transportation funding but only contains enough money to pay for the first three years.
The legislation had attracted more than 260 amendments, including dozens that target the Export-Import Bank, a flashpoint for many conservatives, and the budget stratagems used to help cover the bill’s price tag.
Yesterday, the House spent much of the day debating and voting on a batch of proposed amendments that the Rules Committee had approved Monday for floor action. Those proposals tended to be less likely to provoke contention. Among those that passed yesterday, for example, was one by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) to encourage states and local governments to better plan to limit stormwater runoff stemming from road projects.
But House members rejected a more controversial proposal by Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) that would have given states the option of allowing heavier trucks on their highways, along with several others that would have tinkered with federal funding formulas.
Reporters Hannah Northey and Manuel Quiñones contributed.