Last week, President Obama signed into law the fiscal 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act, which lifts the ban on crude oil exports and extends wind and solar energy tax credits for five years, among several other energy measures. During today's OnPoint, Elizabeth Gore, energy policy director at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and a former chief of staff and legislative director in the Senate, discusses the energy winners and losers in the omnibus and talks about prospects for moving energy-related measures through Congress next year.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Elizabeth Gore, energy policy director at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. Elizabeth, it's nice to have you here.
Elizabeth Gore: Glad to be here.
Monica Trauzzi: Elizabeth, last week President Obama signed into law the fiscal 2016 omnibus. It is being touted as a bipartisan deal, but House Speaker Ryan has received pushback from members of his caucus that he made too many concessions to Democrats. On the whole, particularly on energy issues, how would you qualify the balance of the compromise?
Elizabeth Gore: The biggest piece of this on the energy front was the package of the oil export ban being lifted paired with energy tax credits being extended and providing some certainty and longevity in that area. That's a compromise. There are winners and losers on that. It's a little bit hard to keep score. My own view is that it all represented good policy, and to that extent, I think everybody wins.
Monica Trauzzi: Obviously, the lift of the ban on crude oil exports is one of the biggest stories to come out of the negotiations overall. It's something that seemed politically unfeasible just a few months ago, so what happened, and just how big of a step is this in terms of energy policy more broadly?
Elizabeth Gore: Well, in terms of how big of an issue it is, I think it's an incredible shift in a short period of time. As you said, just a few years ago this was something people started to talk about but didn't really seem to have very many supporters and didn't have a lot of political legs to it. It's a great demonstration of how much can get done if you're willing to package it together with a lot of other provisions. The supporters of this were able to prevent it from getting too partisan. There was some Democratic support; Sen. Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota, for example, was a big, big supporter, and that helped keep it from becoming a Keystone issue where it became very polarizing. And then by adding the energy tax provisions, it really created a more balanced package, and that's what was able to get across the finish line.
Monica Trauzzi: So the oil industry could be considered a winner. Refiners also got their tax break included in the deal. Who are the other big energy winners?
Elizabeth Gore: Clearly, the renewable energy industry did very well in this. They were able to get, as I said, some certainty and longevity that allows real investment to go into the solar and wind industries in particular, and that makes them winners. I'd also mention environmental groups did well in this bill. One of the things that's interesting is what wasn't included, and there were a lot of riders that Republicans in particular were pressing to block rules that the administration has been pushing, and by and large those riders were not included in this package.
Monica Trauzzi: And do you anticipate that heading into next year we'll see those types of issues come back up?
Elizabeth Gore: I do. I think a lot of these issues are going to be revisited next year. But the administration and the Democrats held tough on a lot of these efforts to block some key environmental rules, so it's unclear to me that they're going to be any more successful next year.
Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned the five-year extension of wind and solar tax credits. What does it mean for wind and solar capacity and the potential that we might see coming out of these industries over the next few years?
Elizabeth Gore: The Clean Power Plan, which of course requires cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from utilities, has helped to give a boost to these renewable energy sources, and by providing some certainty on the tax front, these industries really benefit. They have had the disadvantage of seeing their tax provisions extended stutter-step for many, many years, and this longer extension gives them a huge boost, particularly when paired with the Clean Power Plan rules.
Monica Trauzzi: Quite fascinating to see energy-related issues receiving so much attention overall in this package. What do you think this means for efforts to move a broader energy deal? Does it add fuel, or does it sort of push it aside for the time being?
Elizabeth Gore: My view is that the biggest energy issue is the Clean Power Plan and trying to cut carbon emissions. It's hard to see middle ground in that area. If you look at the Clean Power Plan rules in particular, Republicans are in a "just say no" posture; Democrats don't want to tinker with it at all. It's hard to see where you can find compromise where you could make adjustments to the rules that might make them a little less onerous but still meet the overall goals. So it's hard for me to see big areas of compromise in 2016.
Monica Trauzzi: And Congress is pretty limited in what they can do specifically on the Clean Power Plan. I mean, much of this is happening in the states and in the courts.
Elizabeth Gore: Absolutely. I think there are other -- listen, success begets success, and there may be other areas where Congress is going to be able to find compromise. But I think on the biggest issues, it's hard to see a path for a big bill.
Monica Trauzzi: So would you say that Washington is working again, based on what we saw last week, or is that too far of a stretch?
Elizabeth Gore: Well, it certainly worked last week, and I think that there needs to be credit given for the fact that they were able to put together a large bill that covered a huge range of issues, not just in the energy space but across the government. So it worked last week, and we'll have to see. Going into a presidential year, that makes it even more difficult to legislate, but I think we can always be hopeful that Congress will continue to work.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show, I appreciate your time.
Elizabeth Gore: I'm glad I could be here.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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