- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2015

President Obama this week has found himself at odds with allies in Congress and in organized labor over lifting the 40-year ban on U.S. crude oil exports, with the White House still blocking efforts to ship American fuel abroad despite growing support for the idea and mounting evidence that exports will drive down domestic gasoline prices.

Just this week, two powerful labor unions — the Laborers’ International Union of North America and the International Union of Operating Engineers — joined in a letter to congressional leaders urging them to pass legislation lifting the ban, which has stood since the energy crisis years of the 1970s. Bills to remove the prohibition are gaining steam in both houses of Congress, where more and more Democrats are bucking the administration and calling for the U.S. to take full advantage of its abundance of energy.

At the same time, a recent Government Accountability Office review found evidence that lifting the ban could reduce domestic gasoline prices by as much as 13 cents a gallon and “would lead to additional investment in crude oil production and increases in employment.”

For Mr. Obama, the crude oil debate has once again pitted him against his traditional friends in organized labor. Major labor unions also have criticized the president for refusing to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which the administration admits would create more than 40,000 jobs.

On oil exports, some unions say the White House is missing a golden opportunity to spur economic growth at a time when fewer and fewer Americans are participating in the workforce.

“Opening global markets to U.S. producers will support added domestic production that will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and contribute tens of billions of GDP dollars in the supply chain within the next few years. At the same time, we will put downward pressure on domestic fuel prices, while we provide our allies and trading partners with an alternative to sourcing energy from unfriendly and unstable sources,” reads the letter to House leaders, signed by labor unions, manufacturing groups and a host of others who support repealing the ban.

The letter specifically calls for the passage of House Bill 702, which would dramatically ease restrictions on exports. The bill has more than 70 co-sponsors, and similar bipartisan legislation also has emerged in the Senate.

Crafted four decades ago, the ban was meant to conserve all American oil and protect the country from fuel shortages in the wake of the 1973 Arab oil embargo that sought to punish the U.S. for its support of Israel. Today, fears of fuel shortages no longer exist, with the U.S. now entrenched as the world’s largest producer of both oil and natural gas.

While the administration slowly has opened the door to gas exports, shipping crude oil around the world remains forbidden.

The White House confirmed Thursday it has not changed its position on crude oil exports. Officials previously have expressed concern that lifting the ban would lead to higher gas prices at home.

But a host of studies, including one from Harvard Business School and the Boston Consulting Group, along with the recent GAO review, say otherwise.

With the gas prices question seemingly answered, a growing number of Democrats are joining with Republicans in pushing legislation to overturn the ban.

“The advantages of lifting the ban on crude oil exports are not just theoretical talking points discussed in the halls of Congress, but rather supported by a large and growing body of research by government agencies, academic institutions and think tanks across the political spectrum,” Rep. Joe Barton, Texas Republican, and Rep. Henry Cuellar, Texas Democrat, wrote in a joint op-ed for Roll Call on Thursday.

“We will continue to push our colleagues and the president to take action to end the decades-old ban on oil exports and make the U.S. a global energy superpower. Anything short of repeal would be a missed opportunity,” the two men wrote.

Mr. Barton serves on the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy and power, which held a hearing Thursday on legislation to revoke the ban.

In addition to the economic benefits — which now are nearly impossible to deny — the subcommittee also heard from U.S. allies who say access to American crude oil would bring significant national security benefits to their nations by making them less dependent on politically motivated embargoes and cutoffs from nations such as Russia.

“The larger the number of stable democracies among the world’s exporters, the more robust the energy security of the Czech Republic and the European Union will be,” Petr Gandalovic, the Czech Republic’s ambassador to the U.S., told the subcommittee.

But the export ban still has passionate supporters inside and outside Washington.

Some argue that once the ban is lifted, exports naturally would flow to China, not Europe, giving Beijing access to relatively cheap energy as it continues to increase its economic clout.

Backers of the ban also say lawmakers should consider that the U.S., despite being the world’s No. 1 oil producer, still imports some of its supply in order to meet high demand. Changing the law to ease exports could come back to bite the U.S. if global energy markets shift, said Commander Kirk Lippold, president of the consulting firm Lippold Strategies, who also served 26 years in the Navy.

“The day may come when the U.S. is no longer overly dependent on oil imports, and we may be in a position to change our crude oil export policy. But for the sake of national security, that day is not today,” he told the House subcommittee Thursday.

Some House Democrats say lifting the ban will lead directly to the production of more fossil fuels, thereby accelerating climate change and destroying the planet.

Indeed, the GAO review did say that increased crude production “may pose risks to the quality and quantity of surface groundwater sources; increase greenhouse gas and other emissions; and increase the risk of spills from crude oil transportation.”

“What are the environmental and climate impacts of lifting the export ban? We have to choose the cleanest and most sustainable path forward,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., New Jersey Democrat and his party’s ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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