A House subcommittee voted Thursday to lift the 40-year-old restriction on exporting crude oil, moving the legislation a significant step toward passage.
Before approving the measure by voice vote, Republicans on the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy and power said the bill would bring wide-ranging benefits to United States consumers and workers while benefitting the country’s allies abroad.
Democrats objected to the bill, but most signaled a willingness to negotiate on the policy to protect interests that they said could be hurt by the change.
Over the past year, oil exports have become a top priority for Republicans and the oil industry, reeling from a global glut of oil that has brought prices to their lowest point in years.
“This bipartisan bill would put an end to the outdated restrictions on the export of American oil,” Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the subpanel, said during the brief meeting.
“Allowing oil exports would provide a major boost for jobs and the economy, help keep gasoline affordable and strengthen our national security,” he said.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the bill’s sponsor, said the export ban is “outdated,” and tried to allay fears that petroleum refiners would suffer from higher oil prices.
“This is a simple issue. We have an abundance of crude oil,” he said.
“Our refineries are running at 97 percent capacity. They are not going to lose refinery jobs if we repeal the ban on crude oil exports. They’re going to maintain those jobs.”
Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) said the current export restrictions “reflect a 1970s era of scarcity, and these policies desperately need to be updated to reflect our current reality of energy abundance.”
All of the Democrats at the Thursday meeting spoke in opposition to the bill, saying that it could increase gasoline prices, reduce jobs at oil refineries and harm the environment, among other objections.
“The bill before us prohibits any official of the federal government from imposing or enforcing any restriction on the exports of crude oil in any circumstance,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the full committee’s ranking member.
“Not for reasons of national security, not for adverse consumer impacts, not for public safety, and certainly not for impacts to the environment. And I think this is dangerous and misguided.”
But most of the Democrats said they were open to discussing changes to the legislation before it is considered by the full committee or at the full panel’s vote.
“Before opening the door to this global market, I must feel confident that underrepresented communities all around this country would indeed benefit from the opportunities that will come from lifting this ban,” said Rep. Bobby Rush (Ill.), the subcommittee’s top Democrat.
Rush said his staff has been in contact with Barton’s about some potential changes to the bill, and Barton said he’s open to the conversations.
“As we move forward to full committee, I encourage us to sit down and engage in the issue and craft commonsense legislation that will not just benefit producers, but will benefits everybody along the supply line, including the consumers,” said Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), who frequently votes with Republicans on energy policies but also has many oil refinery workers as constituents.
The oil industry welcomed the vote.
“America is now a global energy superpower, and lawmakers are ready to bring home the economic and security benefits of crude oil exports,” Louis Finkel, the American Petroleum Institute’s executive vice president for government affairs, said in a statement.
But environmentalists said it was a giveaway to oil companies.
“Eliminating the crude export ban would not only hurt the many communities facing dangerous oil extraction in their backyards but also our climate, as the industry digs up unburnable oil at an even faster clip,” David Turnbull, director of campaigns at Oil Change International, said in a statement.
The House’s consideration of oil exports kicked into high gear when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced in July that he supported lifting the ban.
In August, the Senate Energy Committee voted along party lines to allow oil exports in a bill that also would increase offshore oil drilling and give states a share of the revenue from offshore oil sales.
By Timothy Cama – 09/10/15 11:34 AM EDT