On crude exports, it's U.S. Chamber vs. AFL-CIO -- but Keystone XL brings harmony

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce today vowed to begin a public education campaign aimed at stoking support for lifting the export ban on domestic crude, a long-term goal that sets up a pitched battle with the nation's largest labor federation.

Karen Harbert, chief of the chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy, committed the business lobby to the crude export fight as she unveiled a 64-point energy platform that includes expanded drilling on federal lands, approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and the addition of nuclear power to any proposed federal or state clean electricity mandates.

"Our production of crude oil is a mismatch for our refining capacity," Harbert said, and "we need to look for ways to export crude" over the long haul.

In the short run, however, she acknowledged that ending a nearly-four-decade-old curb on shipping U.S. crude overseas "makes people uncomfortable." The chamber plans to step up its communications efforts to bill unfettered crude exports as economically beneficial.

"We will be talking about it -- we will be socializing it," Harbert said. Among the constituency that the chamber may need to help convince is House Republicans, few of whom have joined Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in calling for an easier path to more crude exports (E&E Daily, Jan. 9).


Few in the capital expect a formal move on the export ban, which dates back to 1975, to come from the Obama administration this year. But Murkowski has joined some analysts in contending that the White House holds the power to allow more exemptions to the ban without any action from Congress, and the AFL-CIO union yesterday joined environmental groups in positioning for a fight on the issue.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters yesterday that he would stand against any efforts to loosen crude export restrictions. In a joint statement today on the chamber's energy agenda, Oil Change International, the Sierra Club and anti-Keystone XL advocates at Bold Nebraska defended existing law as vital to reining in industry emissions.

"The ban was instituted as a reaction to the oil shocks of the 1970s, and the U.S. still consumes twice as much oil as it produces," the green groups said in a statement. "If Big Oil were genuinely concerned about U.S. energy security, why would they advocate exporting their oil overseas?"

The ban on overseas crude sales, which gives the Commerce Department power to approve exemption licenses, is also splitting a handful of independent refiners from their industry's main lobbying group (Greenwire, Jan. 9). The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers does not oppose ending the ban, citing its support for free-trade measures.

KXL reorders the field

Even as crude exports pit the chamber against the AFL-CIO, the 700,000-plus daily barrels of heavy Canadian oil sands crude that would flow through KXL bring business and labor together.

"The XL pipeline, there's no environmental reason that it can't be done safely at the same time as creating jobs," Trumka said yesterday -- positioning his group as openly in favor of the project nearly a year after it stayed silent in a public statement that endorsed construction of new pipelines to help create jobs.

The lack of a direct KXL mention in last year's pro-pipeline statement from the union came amid an intense campaign from environmentalists to downplay the $5.4 billion project's employment impact. Both friends and foes of the controversial Canada-to-Gulf-Coast link spun the AFL-CIO's phrasing in a favorable fashion for their camps (EnergyWire, March 1, 2013).

Trumka offered further criticism of the green movement's anti-fossil-fuel infrastructure organizing today in a speech at a United Nations event on climate risk.

"I understand your despair at the lack of action," Trumka told climate activists, according to his prepared remarks. "But you cannot allow despair to lead you to embrace self-destructive tactics. Simply demanding that plants, industries and projects be stopped and shut down -- that poisons the well politically."

In urging greens to "be about positive, job-creating approaches, or we will all fail," Trumka blasted former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's anti-coal campaign by name.

In her almost simultaneous remarks, Harbert of the chamber harked back to previous years when applications to build "cross-border pipelines and electricity projects were common and uncontroversial."

The business lobby's new energy platform reaches beyond KXL to propose a two-year time limit for federal consideration of new transcontinental pipelines or transmission lines.

Chamber's other priorities

Beyond crude exports and KXL, the chamber also pushed for the extension of financing structures known as master limited partnerships to renewable energy companies, a notion that draws bipartisan support in Congress, and for faster approval of coal export terminals.

"Its fortunes have not been extinguished," Harbert said of coal, "because worldwide demand is up."

She also addressed more generally the potential for federal investment in "high-end financial instruments" that can help the private sector develop new technologies, creating some philosophical distance from conservative lawmakers who have pushed for the disconnection of the government from the energy industry by slashing funding for programs such as the Energy Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.