Parties scramble to close gap on oil exports, riders

Source: Geof Koss, Hannah Hess and Manuel Quiñones, E&E reporters • Posted: Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Congressional leaders appear to be moving closer to an agreement to end the oil export ban and fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, although key senators said major hurdles remain on policy riders.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would not discuss details of the ongoing talks but signaled that he anticipated releasing text of both the omnibus and tax extenders packages late yesterday afternoon.

“The discussions continue,” he told reporters after huddling with his caucus for lunch. “We hope to be able to finish on both today, at least on the decisions on what will be in them, and my assumption is they’ll be posted later tonight.”

McConnell said the House is expected to vote on the omnibus and tax bill Thursday, “and we hope” the Senate will vote the same day.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said this afternoon that both sides were making progress. Earlier today, he said Democrats are willing to walk away from a deal to lift the oil export ban if renewable tax credits aren’t extended (Greenwire, Dec. 15).

“We’re close to a deal, but we’re not there yet,” he told reporters after the Senate Democratic lunch, citing as outstanding issues crude exports, an oceans program and the tussle over child tax credits.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) described the oceans issue as a “multiyear commitment to oceans research” that is important to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

As part of the discussions, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said earlier today that Democrats want to add to the Green Climate Fund “so that we can honor the pledges which we made in Paris.”

“That’s one of the big asks, which we have,” Markey said.

He said the amount under discussion was unclear. “It’s being negotiated, but something that the administration believes will meet the pledge which we made to make our contribution to the Green Climate Fund long term,” he said.

Reid later sounded a confident note on the fund. “I think we’ll be OK there, yes,” he told reporters.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters that negotiations continue over extending the renewable production and investment tax credits for wind and solar.

“My view is that a lot of the renewable energy provisions have support in our conference and the other side and that we’ll strike the right balance between that and the crude oil export ban,” he said.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who has led efforts in her caucus to reach a deal on crude exports, said earlier today she was optimistic that an agreement would result.

“I think we’re continuing to push and continue to do everything we can to make sure this deal includes oil exports,” she told E&ENews PM. “We’re still very confident that’s going to happen.”

Durbin signaled that there has been agreement on a tax credit to help refiners who are harmed by lifting the oil export ban. “That is in there,” he said but declined to discuss further.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told E&ENews PM that if the broader tax package is agreed to, it will include a phaseout of the PTC, although he said the length of the phaseout wasn’t yet resolved.

He added that he doesn’t expect to see any announcements on the tax package until after tonight’s Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas.

Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said today that the dozens of riders had been reduced to “about seven.”

“But they’re, like, big,” she told reporters. “They’re Super Bowl riders.”

Durbin also said the majority of the riders Republicans were pushing have been resolved.

“We are told that there are virtually no riders,” he said, adding that he believes one targeting the Waters of the U.S. rule is off the table. “Over 120 — some say 200, I don’t know — riders are not going to be included.”