Republicans tie crude export bill to Iran deal

OREANDA-NEWS. A US Senate committee today approved legislation to lift the 40-year-old restrictions on crude exports, but Republicans gave the bill low odds of becoming law by inserting language designed to retain sanctions on Iran.

The Senate Banking Committee today approved the exports bill in a 13-9 vote, with bill sponsor senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) joining Republicans to advance the measure to a potential floor vote. The bill would repeal export restrictions Congress first imposed in 1975 in the wake of the Arab oil embargo but retain some authority for the president to control exports.

But the plan from the Republican majority on the committee to use the crude exports bill to try to retain sanctions on Iran would make it "extraordinarily difficult" to advance the legislation in the Senate, Heitkamp said at the start of the hearing.

"Again we are letting perfect be the enemy of the good," Heitkamp said today.

Republicans have tried repeatedly to scuttle an agreement the US and other global powers have reached with Iran that would exchange nuclear concessions for relief from oil and petrochemical sanctions. But Senate Democrats have successfully blocked their attempts to disapprove the deal and would almost certainly block other legislation targeting the deal.

Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) today introduced the amendment he said would retain sanctions on Iran until Tehran pays billions of dollars in court judgments awarded to US citizens for "acts of terror." The Republican majority on the committee voted 13-9 to approve the change, joined by senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey).

The committee, in a bipartisan vote, defeated another Toomey amendment that would attach a controversial biofuels rider that would almost certainly doom the bill in the Senate. The change would have repealed most of the Renewable Fuels Standard by removing its requirement for refiners to blend corn ethanol into the gasoline supply.

Democrats on the committee, with the exception of Heitkamp, have concerns with lifting export restrictions. While some Democrats, including senator Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), are outright opposed to allowing exports, others such as the committee's ranking member Sherrod Brown (Ohio) said they may be open to a broader bill that had support for renewable energy.

The Senate still has another legislative vehicle that could lift the export restrictions. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee chaired by Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) this summer approved a crude exports bill that would also open more federal land to drilling, but it has yet to get time on the Senate floor for debate.