Lifting the ban on crude oil exports & decision-making politics

25 September 2015

blog, climate change

by: Claudia Guerrero, CFJC Research and Communications Intern 

On September 3rd, a committee in the House of Representatives voted on a bill that would lift the ban on exporting crude oil in the United States. The forty-year-old bill banning the exportation of oil was put into place in the 1970’s to conserve domestic oil and to make the United States less vulnerable to an international oil supply after the crisis relating to the Arab oil embargo in 1973. Now that the bill passed the committee, a full vote from the House is the next step. The bill’s next vote will be in the Senate, and the final step, if it passes in the Senate, would be the White House. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., CA) announced the House vote is scheduled to take place around the last week of September.

Keeping in mind the values of CFJC I took on the challenge to analyze this issue with a critical eye to paying attention to the many components and ideologies that are involved in promoting the bill. When looking at contemporary  U.S.politics we are accustomed to seeing many decisions made in a dualistic manner, republican vs. democrat and red vs. blue. This has put a block on action taking place because these views oppose each other in so many ways. Being introduced to the book “Beyond Red and Blue” written by Peter S. Wenz gave me a new perspective when analyzing issues in politics and more specifically the bill that would lift the ban on exporting U.S. oil. Wenz argues there are twelve political philosophies that help shape American debates. These philosophies set a strong foundation for decision making in politics.

For the sake of the issue at hand, revoking the ban on exporting oil, I will focus on five of the philosophies: natural law, libertarianism, free market conservatism, contractarianism, and environmentalism. These are all very different ideas that shape what the role of the state should be. Natural law is the belief that people should adapt themselves to nature rather than nature adapt to people and their lifestyles. Libertarianism promotes individual liberty and a minimal role in government. Free market conservatism’s main focus is fostering economic growth and promotes any measure that boosts the economy. Contractrians believe that laws and policies should reflect what all parties affected would agree to without coercion, the idea that “one would agree to that if he/she put themselves in the other persons shoes.” Finally, environmentalists believe laws and policies need to protect nature to promote human welfare and provide a viable future for our planet and the people that inhabit it. Legislators with decision-making roles in the State base their decisions on some of these philosophies and as you can imagine, because of their philisophical differences, clashes are the result.

With these philosophies in mind, I dissected the call to lift the ban on exporting oil considered by the subcommittee in the House and found different reasoning’s behind why this bill should and should not move forward. First and foremost the big players and the strongest beneficiaries in this entire process who have been lobbying to get this issue addressed is the oil industry conducting business in the United State. Their argument is the bill in the 1970’s is outdated and reflects a time of oil scarcity in the United States. According to the oil industry, times have changed and there has been an increase in crude oil production with a prospect of continued supply growth. This issue, as viewed by the oil industries, will be dealt with by the free-market conservatism method. They call for the increase on economic expansion through exportation of crude oil. One can argue, it is the oil industries themselves that will benefit the most from the lift on this ban and they will wreak the benefits of unrestricted exportation. The U.S. Energy Information Administration released a report in the beginning of the month stating that based on research the effects of eliminating restrictions on crude oil exports depends on the level of future domestic production, which relies heavily on resources and technology. The companies lobbying for this lift also claim discrimination exists on their product (crude oil) as it is one of the few goods that have exporting restrictions. This is the perspective of contractarianism that one industry is not receiving equal treatment and freedom as others. The ban is something that heavily affects their business and it is not necessarily something they agree with.

Overall, the main interest in the oil industry and the people lobbying to lift the ban is self-interest and gaining wealth by expanding their market from only the U.S. to other areas of the world. It is important to question how this could impact our lives and even more important to question the long term effects on our environment.

Oil is a source of energy that we have become extremely reliant and dependant upon over the course of the last century and now into the current century. The ban was put in place in the 70’s to protect the supply of crude oil within the U.S. and remains effective in securing oil available to the United States. Though companies in the oil industry claim we have “an abundance” of oil produced in the U.S, we still import approximately 5 million barrels of oil a day (the world’s largest importer next to China). We are nowhere near being independent in supplying our own energy supply and voters in the U.S. overwhelmingly support keeping crude oil as a domestic product that will remain readily available on the domestic market.

Another key player that advocates for the ban to remain are oil refineries based within the cU.S.. With no restrictions on exporting our crude oil supply there would be no limitation on oil companies finding cheaper labor to refine the oil and make it marketable as an energy source. One forecast predicts a loss of jobs in refinery businesses around the country and an increase in the price of gas if the ban were lifted.

One of the most important issues that I have yet to touch on is the natural law and environmentalist aspect. When researching the issue I was overwhelmed by the amount of information on how lifting the ban would affect the economy including gas prices, the availability of jobs in the nation, and of course the changes in the stock based on how much oil would be exported. At the same time, a lack of information on how the ban or lack there of affects the environment and efforts to minimize and reduce the reliance on energy coming from oil is problematic. My own interest lies in determining how lifting the ban would affect the environment, which is something we are seeing drastically affected already because of so many changes in unrestricted use of our natural resources. The natural law aspect focuses on working with nature and not attempting to change it for our own needs. The fact that this bill was even proposed shows the priority of many decision makers within the State has minimal to no regard for a natural process. In the Senate, Senator Edward Markey has openly showed he is an opponent of the repeal and says he will be working with environmental groups against the repeal effort. He is against supporting more profits for the already astronomically large oil industries and sending the wrong message to political leaders abroad on the United States stance on reducing carbon emissions.  Senator Markey is standing by his political philosophy of working to save the environment. Senator Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota is proposing a different approach to the bill by striking a deal that would attach other energy provisions, including renewable tax credits, to her crude oil exports. This is being done to gain support from democrats and supporters of the use of renewable energy. On the other side, there are reservations from republicans supporting the bill warning that adding energy provisions to an oil bill could turn some republican support away. These republicans would seem to be the ones that over all enjoy the freedom to do what they want and promote a libertarian agenda.

It is frightening to think of the many decisions that have been made and are being made with the focus being on free market conservation and libertarianism as the priority. That is not to say these policy makers are evil; they just do not have a point of focus in putting themselves in the shoes of average workers and residents of the U.S. and the world abroad. They most definitely do not have a focus on the ramifications that our footprint is making on the earth and how important it is that we address the issue of climate change and make our own changes even if it means money investments going away from oil companies and to renewable energy endeavors. We desperately need policy makers and people to be motivated to rethink where our energy comes from, and to not be motivated solely by the love of power and money. We need to rethink the ways we regulate business to strengthen the limitations that exist on these corporate entities. If they will not “do the right” thing by the environment and our communities, our policy makers should enact policies that force them to conduct business in a manner that protects the environment for our children’s future.


Effect of Removing Restrictions on U.S. Crude Oil Exports:

House panel votes to lift oil export ban:

Truth takes a hit in the battle over U.S oil export ban:

House Plans Vote on Bill to Lift Ban on Oil Exports:

House Vote Said to Be near on Repeal of Export Ban:

Dem senator says deal can be struck to lift ban on oil exports:

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