Senate panel approves oil export bill

The Senate Banking Committee approved a bill to lift the ban on crude oil exports on Thursday.

The measure, pushed by Sen. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampMoney for nothing: Rethinking CO2 Liberal groups urge Schumer to reject Bayh for Banking gavel Court ruling could be game changer for Dems in Nevada MORE (D-N.D.) and others, cleared the committee on a 13-9 vote.

Among Democrats, only Heitkamp supported the bill. But others left the door open to supporting some type of compromise legislation going forward, and have a wish list of proposals to attach to it.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) acknowledged that his state could reap some of the benefits of expanded oil production if crude exports are allowed. He suggested a final bill on the matter could be used as a vehicle for conservation or renewable energy policies, or that it should be merged into a broader energy package.

“These are all important things and I think if we work together in a bipartisan way — set politics aside — we can do some things that are very positive for the county with this ban,” he said.

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said a final bill should address its impact on refinery workers and waterway operators he worries would be put out of work. He also said that Congress could require oil exporters to use only American-made products to get the oil to market.

“These are the kind of things that make sense, so it’s not just a one-off here,” he said. “Can we achieve these goals? We can, if we’re willing to work together and put a program together.”

Heitkamp’s bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and the push to lift the export ban has garnered some bipartisan support.

But the White House said last month that it opposes the effort, and Heitkamp acknowledges that she is trying to craft a compromise to get the measure passed. Last month, she suggested tying renewable energy tax credits to the legislation to win some Democratic support.

The Banking Committee fielded a handful of amendments to the bill on Thursday.

Senators rejected a push from Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) to end federal biofuel mandates in conjunction with lifting the oil export ban. They did, however, adopt a measure requiring Iran to pay all court judgments to Americans victimized by Iranian terror attacks before lifting the export sanctions on that country.

Heitkamp and other Democrats warned that the amendment was a “poison pill” that could kill the bill. But she said before the vote that she hopes to be able to work around it and integrate other compromise measures in the bill.

“While I’m disappointed that we’re taking this turn, I think that we can still move this ball forward,” she said.

“I think we will continue to have this broader discussion ... taking a look at how we can, in fact, do the right thing.”