WILLISTON, N.D. – Legislation crawling its way through Congress that would end the U.S. ban on crude oil exports will succeed only if tied to renewable energy incentives, said Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a moderate Democrat working to convince others in her party to support ending the decades-old restrictions.
Heitkamp, who represents oil giant North Dakota, said she is convinced her bill or a similar one can pass by the end of the year, though getting the White House and others on board will require some kind of financial support for wind, solar and other renewable energies, energy efficiency and water conservation funds.
“The notion that we would be able to do this without some kind of broader compromise in the energy sphere is probably unrealistic at this point,” Heitkamp told the Reuters Commodities Summit on Friday in Williston, epicenter of North Dakota’s oil industry. “Washington is a place where people don’t give up something for nothing.”
The United States has limited most oil exports since the early 1970s. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill ending the oil export ban earlier this month, but President Barack Obama issued a veto threat, saying Congress should work to move the country to cleaner sources of energy.
Two bills in the Senate similar to the House version have passed through committees – including the one co-sponsored by Heitkamp – but backers are struggling to find enough Democrats to pass legislation in the full chamber.
Heitkamp’s acknowledges the political antipathy many of her fellow Democrats have toward fossil fuels, but says she is convinced she can get enough votes. She mentioned that work last month when she opted against a 2016 North Dakota gubernatorial bid.
“Why would we prevent anything from being exported? How is it different from corn? How is it different from any other commodity?” said Heitkamp, a senator since 2013 and a former director of a coal gasification company
Heitkamp declined to discuss specific renewable incentives that could be added to the export ban legislation, citing ongoing negotiations.
Lifting the ban has broad support in North Dakota, where, in an unusual display of political comity, many Republicans have cheered Heitkamp’s bill.
“It’s very puzzling the (Obama) administration feels this is something with which they want to draw a line in the sand,” Jack Dalrymple, North Dakota’s GOP governor, told Reuters. “There’s a broad base of support for crude oil exports across the country.”
(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
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