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Energy Lobbyists Press to Add Sweetners to Must-Pass Package
By Alan K. Ota, CQ Roll Call

Energy lobbyists want to use a must-pass highway bill conference report or tax break extension package to lift the oil export ban and save renewable energy tax preferences.

Forthcoming negotiations on a six-year surface transportation reauthorization (HR 22) have set off a flurry of session-ending efforts to promote incentives for both the oil and gas industry and for alternative sources of electricity such as wind and solar power.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and other allies of the oil and gas industry made clear this week that they will be tracking the highway conference for possible openings to add a House-passed proposal (HR 702) to repeal the ban on exports dating to 1975.

“I think we’ve got a real good chance to get this done,” Barton said.

Barton said he hoped to build support for the oil-export proposal as a stand-alone measure in the Senate and would look for other potential vehicles with help from allies including new House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas. The House is expected to name more highway bill negotiators this week, and Brady may be among them.

“Plan B would be an omnibus spending package. Plan C might be the highway bill. And it could part of a tax bill. It is a revenue raiser,” Barton said.

Barton said lifting the oil export ban would raise about $3 billion over 10 years. He said Brady was part of an informal whip team that supports final action on his proposal.

Some senators such as Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., say they want to combine the oil-export proposal with a number of tax break extensions for renewable energy and move the combined package in a must-pass vehicle such as the highway conference report.

Backers of renewable energy incentives are pushing to preserve provisions in the Senate committee-approved $96 billion two-year extension (S 1946) of tax breaks while looking for alternative vehicles like the highway conference report. The Senate tax break extension bill includes a $10.5 billion two-year renewal of the wind energy production tax credit, $2.6 billion in biodiesel fuel tax credits along with other credits for non-business energy property and excise tax credits for alternative fuels.

“I’m an all-of-the-above guy. I want to make sure we make it happen. . . . It’s not clear what the best approach is. If we’re going to repeal the longstanding ban on oil exports, there ought to be something positive that comes out of it,” said Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, one of 153 Democrats opposing the Barton bill. He said he would be receptive to a compromise that combines the measure with a continuation of the wind energy and other renewable energy incentives.

Proponents of renewables such as the American Wind Energy Association have been pushing hard to preserve sweeteners in the Senate's two-year tax break extension package. Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, an coalition of 53 companies and trade groups, called for a deal on a number of incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“We are encouraged that there are good conversations a lot of scenarios being floated. It’s up to congressional leaders to come together on a package and find the right vehicle," she said. The members of her group include AWEA, Johnson Controls Inc., Ingersoll-Rand and United Technologies Corp.

But conservatives and several budget watchdog groups have pushed to kill renewable energy tax breaks such as the wind energy credit.

“It’s a crazy quilt of incentives for oil and gas and for renewable energy. We should have a clean slate approach and wipe out all of the energy incentives,” said Steve Ellis, a vice president of the Taxpayers for Common Sense, a fiscal conservative advocacy group.