GOP chairman: Oil exports 'can be a win'

GOP chairman: Oil exports 'can be a win'
© Greg Nash

The top House lawmaker overseeing energy said lifting the four-decade-old ban on exporting crude oil could have wide-ranging benefits.

Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonOnly two Republicans expected to back censuring Gosar Jarring GOP divisions come back into spotlight Trump allies target Katko over infrastructure vote MORE (R-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, stopped shot of endorsing a repeal or relaxation of the ban, as he has done previously.

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Instead, at a hearing Tuesday of the committee’s energy and power panel, Upton said it is time for Congress to consider lifting the ban, and said he wants it on the committee’s agenda this year.

“Oil exports can be a win for the American people and a win for our allies,” Upton said in a speech at the beginning of the hearing on energy diplomacy and infrastructure.

“Economic and foreign policy experts across the political spectrum believe that expanding the markets for American oil would be a net jobs creator at home while enhancing our geopolitical influence abroad,” he said.

Upton said the energy sector has been the top job creator in recent years in the United States, but it has lost 100,000 jobs because of the drop in oil prices, which could be stabilized by lifting the ban.

Upton did not yet jump on board with congressional Republicans — and Democrats — who have increasingly argued for ending the export ban.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) has become the main voice in the House behind lifting the ban, which was instituted amid the Arab oil embargo and energy shortages as a way to protect United States consumers and businesses from international spikes in oil prices.

But with abundant oil supplies that are likely to make the United States the top oil producer soon, supporters say the case for the export restriction is weakening.

Support for oil exports is high in Texas and other areas with heavy oil production. Oil refiners want to keep the restrictions in place, fearing that prices would increase if the United States’ oil market were opened to the world.

Barton has 40 co-sponsors on his bill to end the export ban, including five moderate Democrats.

While Upton said he would work with Barton and other co-sponsors of that bill, he recognized that oil exports are not currently part of the comprehensive energy reform package that the Energy Committee is working to write.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) are the main supporters of oil exports in the Senate.

Despite the lack of an endorsement from Upton, the oil industry saw his comments Tuesday as a major gain for their arguments.

“We’re very encouraged by the chairman’s statement,” the American Petroleum Institute said in a statement. “His comments reflect the rapidly growing chorus of bipartisan support for lifting 70s-era restrictions that only limit America’s growth as an energy superpower.”

This story was updated 2:35 p.m.