In a paywalled article at Politico Pro, reporter Elana Schor describes how the Democratic effort to cut a deal to lift the decades-long crude oil export ban is being quietly directed by the White House. The administration has quietly walked back its October veto threat against this top oil-industry priority, despite the global attention on climate change during the Paris climate talks. Remarkably, even climate champion Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) indicated her willingness to cut a deal that would rejuvenate the tar-sands and Bakken-shale industry, telling Schor, “I’ve heard environmentalists say this is a great opportunity; others say it’s not.”
Schor’s story did not make mention of which environmental groups are on which side. The Sierra Club has been leading the fight to ensure the ban stands, whereas the National Wildlife Federation has been pushing for a deal in order to achieve some of its land-conservation goals.
The carbon pollution caused by lifting the ban on crude oil exports, depending on future oil prices, could be equivalent to the pollution from 42 new coal plants.
Lifting the crude oil export ban would be a dramatic blow to American prestige within the international climate negotiations, where the United States, led by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, have been claiming the moral high ground. Youth activists from historically black universities who are monitoring the talks recently sent a video plea to President Obama and the U.S. Senate, saying “the ban must stand.”
White House keeps GOP hopes for oil exports alive
The White House on Tuesday declined to rule out accepting a Congressional measure to allow U.S. oil exports for the first time in four decades, a potential signal to senior Democrats who are considering striking a deal with the GOP to overturn the ban in exchange for other party priorities.
The White House “continues to oppose” a legislative provision rolling back the decades-old ban on exporting U.S. crude, spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters, “but I’m just not going to get into a detailed list of things we are going to veto or not veto.”
Asked about ending the ban as part of a potential budget package that would otherwise be favorable to the White House, a senior Obama administration official said only that legislation on the issue is “not needed at this time”- repeating the language and tone used previously that’s raised alarms among some green groups.
Climate Hawks Vote political director Brad Johnson urged President Barack Obama to close the door to oil exports to reinforce the administration’s goal of reaching a strong global emissions pact at the climate change conference in Paris this week.
“All the efforts of his climate negotiators in Paris could be blown away by this one boneheaded appeasement of Big Oil,” Johnson said.
One official at a group fighting to preserve the export ban said environmentalists are concerned that the White House’s “door [is] wide open for wheeling and dealing and trading.”
Some in the White House “think there’s a way to get a good conservation package” in exchange for allowing oil exports, said a source off the Hill who is closely tracking the talks who requested anonymity.
In addition to other controversies that are threatening to swamp a government funding deal outright, the source said, Obama’s aides are aware that handing Republicans a win on oil exports without significant wins for Democrats on other issues could look like “walking back the commitments the president made in Paris” to rein in U.S. emissions by nearly one-third over the next decade.
Though Johnson slammed as “unconscionable” the growing openness among some Democrats and green groups to a trade-off that would roll back the export ban in exchange for renewable energy and conservation benefits, that willingness to compromise showed no signs of abating on Tuesday.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, shrugged off environmentalist fears about trading conservation and renewables’ benefits for oil exports. There is “division” among green groups over whether to cut a deal, she said in a brief interview. “I’ve heard environmentalists say this is a great opportunity; others say it’s not,” she said.
Any deal would also likely include some type of aid for refineries in the Northeast that have benefited from cheap domestic crude that cannot be exported currently. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said he said he is in discussions for an approach “to make whole American refineries that in many cases would simply go out of business” should exports be permitted.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters that oil exports were not objectionable enough to sink a possible deal on their own.
Ending the 1970s-era ban on exports, the year’s top priority for the American Petroleum Institute, is “not where we want to go,” Hoyer said. “But on the other hand, if there were substantial agreements by the Republicans on some things that we thought were very important, that might be something” to consider during the budget talks.
The Sierra Club’s New Jersey chapter called out its junior Democratic senator directly on Tuesday, pleading for Cory Booker to “stand up to Big Oil” by ruling out any change to the export ban.
“We already have 15 pipelines proposed throughout our state and this plan will bring more dirty fossil fuel infrastructure through our communities,” Sierra’s New Jersey director, Jeff Tittel, said in a statement.
SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive, head of the nation’s biggest rooftop solar power company, fueled talk of a deal that would marry clean-energy tax benefits with conservation funding – as well as other Democratic priorities – during an interview in Paris yesterday. If allowing exports “in return, enabled us to have long-term visibility into continuing to incentivize and promote solar, then I think that’s a fair trade,” Rive said.
Even as lawmakers openly mull a deal, few in the Senate have reckoned with how the Democratic demands under a deal that allows exports would fare among senior House Republicans. Not only does House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop want broader reforms in exchange for any extension for federal conservation spending, but many House conservatives are ideologically set against boosting breaks for renewable energy.
And unrelated disagreements over tax policies this week, such as the earned income credit, may yet force the GOP to punt on a broad package of tax-break extensions that would leave the Democrats without a vehicle for their must-have incentives for wind and solar. Should the tax package evaporate, prospects would dim for an oil exports deal despite the apparent White House openness.“I think it would be really hard to support it without the tax provisions as part of a broader, pro-environmental package to accompany the lifting of the ban,” one Democratic aide said.