October 01, 2015

Brown Opening Statement at Markup of Bill to End Crude Oil Export Ban

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) – ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs – released the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s markup of legislation that would lift the ban on U.S. exports of crude oil.

Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow. 

Sen. Sherrod Brown - Opening Statement
Markup of Bill to Lift Crude Oil Export Ban
Oct. 1, 2015

 Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Today we’ll act on a bill to make a fundamental change in US energy policy by allowing for the unfettered export of crude oil. 

I’m disappointed we won’t be able to act today on the nomination of Acting Treasury Undersecretary Szubin. I hope and expect we’ll act soon, and the full Senate can then approve his nomination quickly.

For more than four decades, spurred by the oil embargoes of the ’60s and ’70s, federal law has barred the export of crude oil in order to support greater US energy independence.

As a nation, we still import about 7 million barrels per day of crude oil. Making this permanent change in export policy now, in isolation from other energy policy changes, would be a step backward in our march toward greater energy independence.

This bill is before this committee because of our jurisdictional responsibility for export controls and licensing.  But the bill before us amends a host of laws far outside our jurisdiction. 

Changing the treatment of oil exports is just one small piece of a much broader energy security and policy debate we should be having in the Senate.

A narrow plan that simply opens the gates to unlimited crude exports will not grow the clean energy economy we need or lay the foundation for long-term effective action on climate change. 

We need a comprehensive approach that incorporates energy efficiency investments and the deployment of renewable power, and takes steps to offset the costs to American consumers, refiners, manufacturers and workers.

It must also take into account the implications for long-term climate and environmental policy, national security, and rail safety.

This deserves a full debate, rather than piecemeal changes that could have unintended consequences.

The amount of oil we export affects consumers, manufacturers, and workers in the oil, refining, petrochemical, and transportation sectors. 

Changes to this policy would have a wide variety of effects nationwide – more production in some areas and potentially negative impacts on refineries and their workers in others.

I know the impact that increased fracking has had on certain parts of the country, as it is beginning to have in Ohio.  And I know members approach this issue with differing perspectives. 

We heard at our July hearing that this production boom has prompted billions of dollars in new investments at our nation’s refineries, and a reduction of imported oil.

Lower crude prices have benefitted domestic refineries, and as a result, consumers pay less at the gas pump.

In fact, AAA estimates American consumers saved $14 billion on gasoline last year, thanks in part to newly discovered crude oil deposits. 

Too often, the oil exports debate is framed in all-or nothing terms.

We know that U.S. oil production growth is uncertain and may, according to EIA, peak in 2020.

We’ve also seen remarkable market swings in price and supply in recent years.

And some of the major shale plays are starting to experience declining production. 

Given these factors, the administration should continue to use existing legal authorities to adjust to changing market conditions.

This may include temporary export policy changes -- by type of oil, by region, or other means -- as part of a comprehensive long-term energy strategy. 

Some of this is being done for certain broad categories of crude oil. For example, exports of crude oil to Canada for use there are presumptively granted licenses, as are exports of crude oil from Alaska’s North Slope, re-exports of foreign-sourced crude, and certain exports from California.

In addition, the Department of Commerce has clarified that condensates are exportable without a license, and has allowed for swaps with Mexico.  

A broader approach must also include improvements to rail safety. Over the past few months, I’ve visited communities in Ohio concerned about the increasing number of crude-by-rail trains that pass through on their way to refineries on the east coast.

In response, I cosponsored legislation in July to get the most dangerous cars off the tracks and replace them with safer models, and to provide public safety funding to communities at risk for these disasters.

That’s part of the answer.  But local firefighters, elected officials, and emergency management professionals are very concerned about high volumes of crude oil moving through their communities even with additional precautions. 

These infrastructure issues must be addressed before making changes that would substantially increase crude transport traffic.

Congress should consider all of these issues while allowing the administration to exercise its current authorities.

This would give us more flexibility to respond quickly to changing world energy needs, price swings, and US national and energy security demands, and give us time to consider potential unintended consequences.

That more comprehensive policy approach makes more sense to me than this piecemeal approach, and that’s why I will oppose this bill.

I hope that Congress takes on that broader energy policy debate in the coming months.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.