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Report: Obama can use executive powers to lift oil export ban

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Republicans are looking to use President Obama’s “year of action” promise to push some of their own policy goals. Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is calling on Obama to use his executive authority to lift parts of the ban on crude oil exports.

“This new domestic energy reality allows us to engage the world in a strong way, and to pursue our national security and foreign policy objectives by economic means,” Murkowski told an audience of energy industry leaders. “Lifting the oil export ban will send a powerful message that America has the resources and the resolve to be the preeminent power in the world.”

Murkowski unveiled a 51-page report detailing historical precedents and relevant legal documents which build the case that President Obama can relax energy trade restrictions and allow U.S. crude oil to be sent abroad.

The oil industry has been pushing for the U.S. to repeal the crude oil export ban, as domestic oil production booms due to hydraulic fracturing. States like North Dakota and Texas have seen oil production boom in the last five years.

Oilprice.com reports that Texas produced 54.4 million barrels of oil in November 2013, up 82 percent from five years ago. North Dakota, now the nation’s number 2 oil producer, saw all-time high production last November, producing 29.1 million barrels that month.

Thanks to energy policy crafted in the wake of the 1970s OPEC oil embargo, oil must be refined in the U.S. in order to be exported abroad. Murkowski hopes to change this law soon.

The Alaska Republican set out a road map that shows Obama just how he could use his executive authority to repeal the export ban. In fact, presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton have all allowed some oil to be exported using their executive powers.

Reuters energy analyst John Kemp noted, “Presidential decisions have lifted controls on the export of refined products (1981), crude to Canada (1985 and 1988), oil from Alaska’s Cook Inlet (1985), California heavy crude (1992) and Alaska North Slope oil (1996).”

“The historical record is clear that the executive branch retains the authority to permit crude oil exports under certain conditions,” reads Murkowski’s report. “In fact, this was done on several occasions by successive administrations.”

“Even statutes that generally prohibit the export of crude oil contain provisions that permit the president to authorize exports under certain conditions,” the report adds.

President Obama promised to make 2014 a “year of action”, promising to bypass Congress on key issues, like global warming and income inequality, in order to appease his supporters after years of bitter partisan battles.

“In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together,” Obama said. “Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want — for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations.”

But would this extend to lifting the ban on crude oil exports? The administration has been cautious when it comes to approving export terminals for liquified natural gas. The Obama Energy Department has only approved six such projects and about two dozen more projects are still need approval.

While moving slowly on gas exports, the Obama administration has promised free trade for green energy and technology as part of its plan to fight global warming. This has also come as the President has dragged his feet on approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring Canadian oil sands into the country.

Environmentalists who oppose the Keystone pipeline, also oppose exporting crude oil. These groups make up a key Democratic support base and could revolt in the upcoming elections if Obama uses his executive authority to encourage more oil production.

Kemp writes that, “environmental groups have been among the most enthusiastic and consistent supporters of the president and many congressional Democrats, and they are mostly hostile to oil exports.”

“Lifting the ban with the support of congressional Republicans like Murkowski but in the teeth of opposition from his own party and environmentalists would pose risks for the president and few political benefits,” Kemp adds.

Even if Obama chooses not to act on oil exports, according to Murkowski, the Alaska Republican is prepared to reform the export ban through legislative means. A bill would ultimately need to be signed by the president.

“Legislation may be required if the president is unwilling to lead on this issue – and I am fully prepared to go down that route if necessary – but let there be no doubt that there is a clear path forward here,” Murkowski said.

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