A industry-led push to lift the U.S. crude oil export ban is gaining momentum in Congress, despite warnings that ending the 40-year-old policy would "cook the climate" and endanger public health and safety.
The country's ban on crude exports was first established during the Arab oil embargo in the early 1970s, in an effort to conserve domestic oil reserves and prevent foreign imports. Backed by Big Oil, key lawmakers who support lifting the ban—like Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.)—say that with U.S. oil production reaching historic highs, it's time to open the industry to the world market.
But environmental groups like Oil Change International warn that "[r]emoving the export ban would cause a hazardous increase in oil drilling in the U.S. and lead to increased climate emissions as well as dangerous oil transportation via rail and pipeline through towns across the country."
And Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said this week that lifting the ban without first considering the environmental consequences would be a "dangerous" move that could increase worldwide carbon emissions by almost 22 million metric tons per year.
In a report (pdf) issued this month, Oil Change pointed out: "Encouraging more oil production is precisely the wrong policy signal to be sending if you are not a climate denier. In fact, a cap and gradual phase down in U.S.—and global—oil production over the next 35 years is exactly what we need in order to avoid catastrophic climate change."
Labor, environment, and consumer groups made their case at a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill Thursday morning, charging that exporting crude oil to overseas markets not only would harm workers and the climate but also would raise prices for American gas consumers and small businesses like independent refineries whose services would no longer be needed.
As Leo Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers, told a Senate committee on Tuesday, "If Congress lifts the crude oil export ban, gas prices will increase and some U.S. refineries could be forced to shut down, sending tens of thousands of jobs overseas. Let's be clear, exporting a natural resource to have it refined overseas and imported back into the U.S. is a net job loser for America."
The push to lift the ban is led by a profit-hungry fossil fuel industry that has, in the words of Public Citizen Energy Program director Tyson Slocum in written testimony (pdf) last month, "launched an expensive media and lobbying campaign to convince lawmakers to repeal or modify this 40-year-old consumer protection statute."
That strategy seems to have convinced some on the right-wing, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who endorsed lifting the ban on Wednesday.
The Hill reports:
Boehner only came to his position after he and GOP leaders did a whip count in recent days to evaluate support for lifting the ban within the party, Republicans said.
And it appears that the count was pretty decisive.
“There continue to be some skeptics, or at least politically concerned members in areas like the Northeast, where there’s a hub of refiners. But by and large, it’s whipped very strongly on our side,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who supports exporting crude.
He and other members said GOP leaders would almost definitely move for a vote in the House sometime this fall.
To do so would be short-sighted, Slocum warned in his testimony. "We must learn from Nigeria, Russia, and Venezuela that an economy that prioritizes natural resource exports fails to properly develop the true engines of prosperity," he said. "Any informed observer of energy markets today recognizes that the real revolution is in clean tech technology."