Bad Idea: Heidi Heitkamp's Wants To Turn Over Control Of Oil Export Ban To The President

oil export

For some stupid reason a forty year old ban on exporting most unrefined crude is still on the books despite generations of politicians paying lip service to the notion of American energy independence (which in and of itself is kind of a stupid talking point, but whatever).

The ban not only shrinks the market into which domestic oil producers can sell, but it makes them a captive audience to refining interests who know domestic producers have nowhere else to send their oil. So lifting it is a good idea, and would be a salve as low oil prices hit the economy hard.

To illustrate how hard, consider this graph. It’s a little outdated – only through 2013 – but it shows what American job growth would have been since 2008 without the oil and gas industry Democrats hate so much:


As you can see, with oil industry jobs disappearing, lifting the oil export ban is a good idea. And it seems Congress is actually poised to vote to lift it.

Democrats, as you might expect, extracted all sorts of concessions from Republicans on pumping more money into green energy, but one key compromise being touted by North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp (who has her PR people working over time to make sure she gets credit on this) may be headache in the future. From Forum News Service reporter Amy Dalrymple:

Heitkamp’s office said a provision in the bill – which was originally included in legislation Heitkamp wrote – was critical to reaching an agreement with Democrats. The provision would give the president the ability to impose restrictions on oil exports for special circumstances such as national security threats or emergencies.

Thanks to Heitkamp’s amendment, Congress is essentially handing unilateral veto power over oil exports to the President of the United States.

The existing ban came into law through an act of Congress. The Energy Policy and Conservation Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1975. Now Congress is, thankfully, undoing that ban. But in order to grease the skids, Heitkamp decided to give authority over the ban to the executive branch.

In the short term this means the ban gets lifted, and that’s a good thing. Long term, though, if we get another anti-fossil fuel ideologue like Obama in the White House he or she could, without Congress, stop oil exports.

And yes, I know that authority is only supposed to be for “security threats” or “emergencies,” but when has the executive branch ever seen those sort of prohibitions as a limitation? In this era of the perpetual “war on terror” when wholesale digital surveillance on American citizens is justified, does anyone think a president would have a hard time blocking oil exports for some trumped up reason?

I realize that lifting the oil export ban, despite the efficacy of the policy being self evident, was going to require some concessions to get Democrats on board.

But I don’t think this particular concession is something Heitkamp should be bragging about.