Ethanol fight complicates push to repeal Obama drilling rule

Ethanol fight complicates push to repeal Obama drilling rule
© Keren Carrion

A handful of GOP senators have said they might hold up legislation to repeal an Obama administration oil and natural gas drilling rule to secure a vote on an ethanol policy change.

The group, led by Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyHigh stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Grassley raises voice after McConnell interrupts Senate speech MORE (R-Iowa) and John ThuneJohn Randolph ThunePolls: Hiking estate tax less popular than taxing mega wealth, income Will Trump sign the border deal? Here's what we know Key GOP senator pitches Trump: Funding deal a 'down payment' on wall MORE (R-S.D.), have long pushed legislation to overturn federal policy that effectively prevents sales of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol — known as E15 — during the summer months due to volatility concerns.

Now they want to trade a Senate vote on that bill for a vote on a resolution that would overturn limits on methane emissions from oil and natural gas drilling on federal land.

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Thune said Wednesday that he and his allies tried and failed to get the provision into the omnibus spending bill that was unveiled Sunday and will get a vote this week. Since the methane legislation is a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, it cannot be combined into a single bill with the ethanol policy change.

“We tried to get it included in the omni, unsuccessfully. So we’re looking now for other vehicles and seeing … how methane fits into that picture,” Thune said.

Lobbyists familiar with the discussions say that Thune, Grassley, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerWhy Democrats are pushing for a new nuclear policy Trade official warns senators of obstacles to quick China deal Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (R-Neb.) are leading the charge for the ethanol vote.

“I can’t give you an update on it,” Grassley said on Wednesday.

“I can say, as of yesterday, no," there isn't a deal, he said, adding, "but if there’s been anything done overnight, I don’t know.”

Fischer declined to say whether she is involved in the move to exchange a vote on methane for the ethanol provision, only noting that she is the lead sponsor of the ethanol legislation.

“I think it’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” she said.

Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenDem lawmaker 'confident' bipartisan group will strike deal on border funding Congress in painful start to avoid second shutdown Republicans want Trump to keep out of border talks MORE (R-N.D.), a strong supporter of the methane legislation, said the ethanol change makes sense and he wants to resolve it. But it should be dealt with separately, he said.

“I think it’s something we can straighten out, but I don’t think that should be a problem as far as the vote that we’re going to have on the CRA,” he told reporters. “I think that’s an issue we can get figured out, but it would obviously have to be separate from this.”

Time is running out for the methane resolution. Under the terms of the Congressional Review Act, which provides the Senate a window of 60 legislative days to overrule a regulation, the Senate has a May 11 deadline for passing the bill, Hoeven said on Tuesday.

Even before the ethanol issue rose to the surface, Republican supporters of the methane resolution have struggled to secure the votes they need to move it to the floor.

Two Republican senators — Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech The Memo: Trump and McCabe go to war Graham seeks new Rosenstein testimony after explosive McCabe interview MORE (S.C.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCongress must step up to protect Medicare home health care Business, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration MORE (Maine) — have indicated opposition to the methane bill, meaning supporters can only afford to lose one more vote before the resolution flounders.

Four senators are believed to be undecided on the measure: Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerBipartisan Senators reintroduce legislation to slap new sanctions on Russia Dems seeking path to Senate majority zero-in on Sun Belt Lawmakers eager for 5G breakthrough MORE (R-Colo.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSteel lobby's PR blitz can't paper over damaging effects of tariffs Trade official warns senators of obstacles to quick China deal Lawmakers divided over how to end shutdowns for good MORE (R-Ohio), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE (R-Nev.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction MORE (D-N.D.). If any of them decide to oppose the resolution, it will fall short of the 51-vote threshold Republicans need for passage.

Outside groups have waged a lobbying war over the methane rule, an Obama administration effort to limit venting and flaring of methane pollution from drilling sites on federal land.

The oil industry support the CRA resolution, saying it would unwind a regulation that could hamstring producers who are already working to cut down on methane leaks on their own.

Environmentalists say the rule is necessary for limiting emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas with 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

The White House has not telegraphed its position on the resolution, though Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoDems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants Overnight Energy: Zinke joins Trump-tied lobbying firm | Senators highlight threat from invasive species | Top Republican calls for Green New Deal vote in House Senators highlight threat from invasive species MORE (R-Wyo.), its lead sponsor, said he expects President Trump would sign it.

Trump has signed 12 other CRA resolutions stripping rules issued late in the Obama administration from the books. Trump signed an executive order in March to start undoing numerous Obama rules, including the methane one, though that process goes through agency rulemaking and would take much longer than an instantaneous congressional effort.