Crude exports still ‘in the mix,’ but window may be closing

Source: Geof Koss and Hannah Hess, E&E reporters • Posted: Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Key lawmakers and lobbyists said today that a deal to end the ban on crude exports remains a possibility before the end of the year, although its chances may be diminished by the likelihood of a smaller tax package.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who in July was one of the first Democrats to float the idea of a deal ending the exports ban in exchange for extending key wind and solar tax credits, said exports remain a live issue.

“I think it’s still a possibility,” he told Greenwire this morning. “There’s a lot of pieces in play at the end of the Congress, obviously.”

However, with the House moving toward a two-year tax extenders package, Heinrich conceded that the likelihood of a deal may be shrinking, given that there’s less room to negotiate on tax credits Democrats want in exchange for lifting the ban.

“I think that’s an accurate characterization,” he said.

One lobbyist said a smaller extenders package gives negotiators less to discuss.

But Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who has led efforts among Senate Democrats for a deal, disputed the notion that the window may be closing for a compromise. She argued that a two-year extension of the production tax credit included in the House’s extenders package helps provide the certainty for wind developers that Democrats are seeking and, when combined with other Democratic asks for allowing crude exports, may be enough to carry a deal.

“I absolutely believe that’s true,” she told Greenwire today.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she’s not giving up hope for a crude exports deal.

“It’s still in the mix,” she told Greenwire. “It’s a conversation that’s going on at the highest of the high levels.”

Murkowski offered a similar assessment to Heitkamp’s — that there are enough other issues at play that could carry a deal.

“I think that the discussion around oil exports has been not necessarily limited to tax extenders, so how it fits into the broader discussions on the [omnibus spending bill], again, these are conversations that are going on in some pretty big offices, and we’re all just sort of waiting to see the secret sauce,” she said.

According to a summary of the House extenders bill, the PTC would be extended through the end of 2016. However, the bill is silent on the extension of the investment tax credit for solar that many Democrats have wanted.

The omission of the ITC from the two-year bill comes despite a plea yesterday from Nat Kreamer, chairman of the board of the Solar Energy Industries Association, who flagged his experiences serving in the special forces in Afghanistan in a letter to House Ways and Means members.

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) declined to comment on the role of exports in the extenders negotiations. “I’m not going to get into the discussions,” he told reporters.

Asked by Greenwire whether a rider to lift the ban on crude oil exports remained negotiable as part of the omnibus talks, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said it was “still on the table, still being discussed.”

“That’s the sort of thing where I think we think that’s not where we want to go; on the other hand, if there were substantial agreements by the Republicans on some of the things that we thought were very important, that might be something,” Hoyer said. “But it’s not a policy that we think we ought to pursue in this bill.”

Resettling Syrian refugees in the United States continues to be a sticking point in omnibus negotiations, but appropriators are sifting through a number of others. Hoyer declined to identify the issues.

As for extenders, Hoyer said Democrats oppose the broader $800 billion tax bill under discussion but would not oppose the two-year tax extension. “For a number of these policies, we just think that making these things permanent ought to be done in the context of a larger bill,” he said, adding that Congress should find a way to pay for tax reform.

Meanwhile, Republicans on both sides of the Capitol have started working on a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government running past Friday, meaning lawmakers could be in for a long stretch of days in Washington.

“I don’t want us to go home until we get this done,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said today. He said leaders in both chambers are working on a spending deal to cover “a handful of days.”

“We know that we’re going to get it right instead of get it done fast,” Ryan said on the long-term spending plan. “We are not going to waive the three-day rule [to make public a bill before voting on it]. We’re going to make sure that members of Congress, and therefore the public, have the time to read what is agreed to. But we’re not going to let the arbitrary Dec. 11 deadline stop us from getting this right. We’re going to get the best agreement we can.”

With an endgame in sight, Democrats seemed open to the possibility of a stopgap measure.

But Hoyer made clear that extending negotiations any longer than Dec. 18 would be “a problem.”

“I want to know what a handful [of days] means,” he told reporters.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus today argued for a six-week bill. Hoyer accused conservatives of “taking the government hostage” over their policy wish list.

“The leadership has clearly articulated, and I believe them, they do not want to shut down the government,” Hoyer said. “But notwithstanding that, they are pursuing and they continue to pursue the adherence to people who don’t care whether they shut down government and have demonstrated that in the past and have voted that way in the past.”

Reporter Manuel Quiñones contributed.