Critics seethe over end to oil export ban

Environmental groups and some Democrats are furious that Congress’s bipartisan spending bill would lift the ban on crude oil exports.

Greens said the extensions of wind and solar power tax breaks does not justify a provision that would generate billions of dollars for the oil industry.

After a year and a half of concerted lobbying by the oil industry and its Republican allies, the annual appropriations bill released early Wednesday morning includes a provision to lift the ban that had been put in place in 1975 to protect consumers from international crises like the OPEC oil embargo.

But Democrats and activists had been defending the export ban as a way to limit Big Oil.

“There are concerns that we have about jobs, [that] jobs will leave the country because they've lifted the ban on crude oil,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters.

She said Democrats are “curious” to look more closely at the renewable energy tax incentives and whether they’ll offset the environmental impact of increased oil exports.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group of influential liberals in the House, is “skeptical” of the oil ban’s inclusion in the spending bill. 

The legislation, a House Democratic aide said, has other concerning provisions for progressives, including campaign finance riders and a lack of bankruptcy protection for Puerto Rico. 

But lifting the oil ban, the aide said, is the “primary sticking point” for liberals as they consider how they’ll vote on the legislation.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee and a leader of the CPC, said the timing of the oil provision, days after the Paris climate agreement, is troubling.

“This deal gives oil drillers an enormous policy win that does our economy no good and threatens the climate progress made in Paris,” he said in a statement. “Allowing a five-year renewable energy tax credit extension is cold comfort to everyone who supports a forward-looking clean energy economy and an end to constant oil favoritism in Congress.”

Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyDem lawmaker calls for FCC hearing on AT&T deal FCC approves new privacy rules for 'sensitive' internet data Senate Dems target Wells Fargo auditor MORE (D-Mass.), who has long opposed crude oil exports, took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to slam the provision's inclusion in the spending package. 

He called the deal a give-away to oil companies, and a move that would hurt the environment and the economy. 

"It is corporate welfare for the most profitable industry in the history of the world, the oil industry,” he said. 

“And what does this mean for the American people? Well, lifting the ban on the exportation of American oil so it goes overseas rather than staying here in America, it will be a disaster for our economy, our climate, for our national security.”

Some activists blamed Democrats for allowing oil exports in the negotiating process.

“The Democratic leadership traded this ban for a small extension of taxes that support renewable energy,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director at Food and Water Watch.

“The decision by President Obama and Democratic leadership to cave in to the demands of the fossil fuel cartel will harm Americans in order to give oil companies larger profits.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council applauded many provisions of the bill, including the fact that many potential provisions blocking environmental rules were left out.

“The major disappointment in the deal is the lifting of the ban on exporting U.S. crude oil,” said Rhea Suh, the group’s president.

“Republican leaders made this one of their top priorities even though it benefits oil companies at the expense of American consumers and refinery workers,” she said. “The move flies in the face of other actions being taken to reduce oil use and attack climate change.”

—Devin Henry contributed. This post was updated at 5:12 p.m.