Senate panel votes to lift oil export ban

Senate panel votes to lift oil export ban
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The Senate took a major step toward ending the 40-year-old ban on exporting crude oil Thursday when a committee voted to lift the prohibition.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 12-10 along party lines to approve a bill sponsored by Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiGOP Medicaid cuts will be disastrous for millions with Alzheimer’s Overnight Healthcare: Latest on Senate healthcare bill | Four conservatives say they'll oppose | Obama slams bill | Health groups offer scathing criticism The Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (R-Alaska), the panel’s chairwoman, to lift the ban, while opening more areas to offshore drilling and giving nearby states a share of the royalties.

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“It’s the result of collaborative efforts by members of this committee to boost offshore development, allow revenue sharing for coastal producing states and lift the outdated ban on crude exports,” Murkowski said before the vote on the bill.

“It’s three efforts that I believe will improve our energy and our national security,” she added, referring to separate offshore drilling bills for the southern Atlantic coast, the eastern Gulf of Mexico coast and the waters around Alaska, sponsored by Murkowski and other senators.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) sponsored the Gulf bill and supported the entire package.

“Obviously, we as a nation would do better if we had greater access to energy development to strengthen our energy independence,” he said.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) also supported the measure.

“The current restrictions that we have in place put enormous inefficiency in the market,” he said. “And those inefficiencies create price fluctuations and price increases, not only on gasoline but on all other kinds of products that include petroleum in their development.”

The vote puts Congress the closest it has been in a while to ending the export ban, which has become a priority of the oil industry and its supporters over the last year.

Proponents maintain that the 1970s export ban is outdated and does not acknowledge the abundance of oil that the United States now has, with production nearing record highs.

But the committee’s Democrats criticized the bill on a number of fronts, including its exclusive focus on fossil fuels. Some of them said they might support it if other measures are included to help renewable energy.

“I think the proponents are making some very persuasive arguments on this front,” said Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin HeinrichDems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity The Memo: Five takeaways from Jeff Sessions’s testimony Overnight Cybersecurity: Sessions denies Russia collusion | First agency gets 'A' grade on IT | Feds out North Korean botnet | Unusual security update for Windows XP MORE (D-N.M.). “But I think before we make such a monumental shift in U.S. policy, I hope we can agree to expand our existing policy incentives for carbon-free energy sources,” he said, pointing to tax credits for wind and solar power as priorities.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) dubbed the bill the “No Fossil Fuel Left Behind Act” for its focus on oil.

“I might be prepared to support it, but only if there’s a more balanced package of changes in the bill, for example, extension of the renewable credits for wind and solar, other kinds of environmental and renewable energy supports,” he said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) objected to many provisions, including the revenue sharing, which she said the country cannot afford.

But mostly, she wants more time to debate it, she said.

“The committee had a discussion and vote on an offshore drilling piece of legislation, and the whole debate happened within 20 minutes,” said Cantwell, the panel’s ranking member. “That is because this is one of the most contentious issues that has ever been before the committee, and sometimes the negotiations have lasted for months.”

The vote came at the same meeting in which the committee passed its broad energy reform package with strong bipartisan support, though the two bills are separate.

The Senate Banking Committee is also considering oil export legislation, sponsored there by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).

The vote came a day after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) came out in support of oil exports, becoming the highest-ranking Republican to hold that opinion.

The House is likely to vote on its own oil export bill this fall.