Oil-financed Senate banking committee poised to greenlight oil exports

Despite signaling earlier this year that President Obama would veto bills repealing the current ban on exporting crude oil produced in the United States, the administration has since walked back that position. Yesterday, Politico reported (subscription required) that White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to rule out lifting the ban in exchange for other administration priorities in negotiations over a spending bill due Friday.

Meanwhile, another bill that would repeal the export ban, already passed in the House, is under consideration by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Members of that committee from both major political parties are long-time allies of the oil and gas industry, and data from the Center for Responsive Politics show that current committee members have received $2.9 million in campaign contributions from individuals and PACs affiliated with oil and gas companies since 2011.

Tom Cotton, Republican Senator from Arkansas, received the most oil and gas money of anyone on the committee. Cotton has brought in $467,055 from the industry since 2011, according to CRP’s OpenSecrets database. The oil industry is Cotton’s 4th largest donor, and though the senator does not explicitly deny the existence of climate change, he did claim in 2014 that the Earth’s temperature had not risen in the past 16 years. (The top 10 hottest years on record have come since 1998, with 2014 taking the top spot, though 2015 will in all likelihood displace it.)

North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp received the most oil and gas industry money of all the Democrats on the Banking Committee, garnering $233,574 in industry contributions since 2011. Oil and gas donors comprise the senator’s third largest industry donor group according to OpenSecrets. Senator Heitkamp’s state is home to one of the largest shale oil fields in the country, the Bakken Shale, which has seen explosive growth from the oil and gas industry since the advent of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Heitkamp has been a staunch proponent of the petroleum industry’s agenda in Washington; in 2013 she co-sponsored a bill to expedite permits to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States, pitched as a measure to undermine Russia’s near monopoly on the European gas market, but long a priority of oil and gas producers facing depressed prices due to overproduction from the fracking boom.

A third senator allied with the oil and gas industry on the committee considering the export ban is David Vitter of Louisiana, who this year lost his bid for Governor of that state. As we wrote in a 2014 post on efforts to expand LNG exports, Vitter is the son of a Chevron executive and owns a considerable portion of Chevron stock. The oil and gas industry has been Vitter’s top donor since 2011, contributing $189,400 to his campaigns.

As policymakers consider lifting the crude oil export ban, which the Center for American Progress estimates would result in an addition 515 million metric tons of carbon pollution every year, government officials are being targeted by a multifaceted campaign by the oil industry advocating the same. As PAI reported this week, several prominent US think tanks with deep financial and governance ties to the industry have been pushing to repeal the ban. Like the senators on the banking committee, the think tanks advocating the ban cross the mainstream political spectrum – from the Brookings Institution and the Center for Foreign Relations to the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

That Democrats appear willing to consider acceding to lifting the ban, even as President Obama recognized America’s role in driving climate change at the COP21 negotiations in Paris, indicates that the oil industry’s campaign is working.

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