Energy & Environment

Key GOP senator shifts strategy on oil export ban

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A key Republican senator thinks he’s found a way to win over Democrats on legislation to end the nation’s oil export ban — which would provide a new legislative victory for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

{mosads}Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) is shopping the idea of pairing the oil export ban with legislation backed by Democrats to reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

Hoeven hopes that by merging the two bills, he can attract Democrats such as Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Cantwell is among a bipartisan group of senators pushing to quickly renew the conservation fund.

Hoeven is one of several Republicans leading the effort to lift the oil export ban along with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.).

Hoeven’s plan would look to buoy the export ban by tying it to a program that traditionally wins bipartisan support.

Still, it could face opposition from GOP colleagues such as Sen. Mike Lee (Utah), who has spoken on the floor against reauthorizing the conservation fund.

Hoeven and his home-state colleague, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D), want to end the oil export ban to help North Dakota’s oil producers and their state’s economy, though the proposal has little Democratic support beyond Heitkamp right now.

Ending the ban will require a handful of Democrats to back the measure in the Senate, and likely the support of President Obama — something the White House has been hesitant to offer.

The House last week passed legislation 261 to 159 to lift the 40-year ban, which ran promptly into a veto threat from Obama. In a veto letter to Congress, Obama officials said the White House opposed the House bill, but didn’t flatly rule out allowing exports if some type of deal were cut.

Heitkamp, who has taken the lead in convincing Democratic senators, told The Hill last week that the administration’s position on the subject might be malleable.

In the Senate, the main opposition comes from Democrats representing manufacturing states, such as Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who is a close ally of Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the future Senate Democratic leader.

Manufacturers depend on cheap domestic energy supplies, especially when the strong dollar is hurting exports.

Senate Democratic leadership sources say lifting the ban won’t happen unless Republicans agree to major concessions on green energy.

In September, Heitkamp proposed tying a series of green energy tax credits to her export bill as a way to garner Democratic support. The tax incentives represent the dominant method under consideration in the Senate thus far to beef up votes on the left for the exports.

But Hoeven has warned such a tactic could be off-putting to Republicans who oppose the tax credits, and to others who think pairing a lift of the ban with the Land Conservation bill might work.

The fund’s authorization expired for the first time in 51 years at the end of September.

Congress created the LWCF in 1965 to maintain and acquire national parks, refuges and forests with revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling. Energy companies pay nearly $1 billion a year into the fund from revenues collected through activity on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The fund tends to find bipartisan support, though a dispute over federal land control and funding has stalled it in the House. Hoeven hopes that, by tying its renewal to an issue as popular on the right as oil exports, it will help get both bills over the finish line.

All 54 of the Senate’s Republicans are expected to back lifting the oil export ban, meaning supporters need to attract six Democrats to overcome a filibuster. They’d need a total of 67 votes to overcome an Obama veto.

Hoeven’s idea is the latest offered to win that support.

Heitkamp last month suggested the possibility of attaching renewable energy tax credits to her oil export bill.

“This is an opportunity to make an argument about production tax credits and investment tax credits in the context of giving certainty, across the board, to the energy industry and truly supporting an all-of-the-above policy,” she said at a National Journal event.

Cantwell teamed up with Murkowski over the summer to move a bipartisan energy reform package that includes an LWCF renewal.

But she voted in committee against a Murkowski-sponsored bill to lift the oil export ban.

Cantwell said at the time that she had concerns about the potential impact on gas prices in Washington state, which rank among the highest nationwide.

Democrats have floated other potential compromises.

At a September hearing, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) raised concerns over how exports would impact refinery workers and proposed requiring the use of American-made products to move the oil to market.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has also proposed tying the issue to LWCF.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, another centrist Democrat, supports exports and is a co-sponsor on Heitkamp’s bill.

“By exporting crude oil, we will not only lower the market price today at the pump … but we will be able to improve our country’s national security,” he said at a July meeting of the Energy Committee.

“We will be able to take away market share from countries like Iran, while providing our allies and friends with a reliable source of energy, instead of forcing them to depend on other countries that are not our allies or friends,” Manchin added.

He ended up voting against Murkowski’s bill, which had provisions attached to greatly increase offshore oil and natural gas drilling.

Thirteen Senate Democrats led by Sen. Ed Markey (Mass.) wrote a letter to Obama in June urging him to keep the export ban in place.

McConnell told reporters last month that he would discuss the oil export ban during year-end budget talks.

“I do support lifting the oil export ban, and that’ll be among other items that we discuss with the administration as we move toward resolving all of these differences,” he said.

–This report was updated at 11:01 a.m.

Tags Barack Obama Heidi Heitkamp John Hoeven Jon Tester Maria Cantwell Mitch McConnell oil export ban

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