Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said Thursday that her agency is grappling with its approach to the nation’s decades-old ban on most crude-oil exports at a time when “technology is advancing faster than the existing regulations.”
“I think it’s a mistake to think there isn’t serious conversation going on within the administration about what we should do and figure out the right policy,” she said at the Aspen Ideas Festival in response to a question about both oil and natural-gas exports, although her agency only regulates the former.
Pritzker’s remarks arrive roughly a week after revelations that the Commerce Deparment quietly gave two companies a green light to export ultralight, minimally processed crude oil known as condensate, ruling that it’s a “petroleum product” and not subject to the ban.
Some analysts see the decisions as a crack in the export ban that dates back to the oil shocks of the 1970s, despite Obama administration claims that no policy shift has occurred.
“We do not have a change in policy despite what you read in the newspaper,” Pritzker said at the festival. (The Atlantic, a lead sponsor, is owned by National Journal parent company Atlantic Media.)
However, she acknowledged that the nation’s surging production of light oil from shale formations is forcing a new look at the topic.
“What is going on is that because of unconventional sources — and for those of you who are lawyers in the room, you will enjoy this — what is the definition of crude oil versus what is the definition of a distilled or refined product?” she said.
“That is something that we have to now look into more carefully and better understand the implications of this and it’s because technology is advancing faster than the existing regulations,” Pritzker said.
On Wednesday, Democratic Sens. Edward Markey and Robert Menendez sent Pritzker a letter demanding the legal rationale for the recent export approvals, arguing that the rulings issued for Pioneer Natural Resources and Enterprise Products Partners seemingly run afoul of the decades-old ban.
The White House has previously disclosed that an inter-agency group is exploring the export ban. In particular, production of light oil from regions including the Eagle Ford is surging, yet many Gulf Coast refineries are configured to handle heavier grades from Venezuela, Canada, and elsewhere.
In Aspen, Pritzker declined to say whether she thinks the crude-oil export ban should be relaxed and noted interagency discussions on the topic.
She noted that energy exports overall should be examined wholistically from an economic, strategic, and diplomatic standpoint.
“The question is, what is the right exports and what is the right amount of exports? Right now we have in place a policy about oil exports. There’s a policy question but there is a definitional question,” Pritzker said.
“So we have to spend time and interagency process to figure it out, which is going to occur,” she said.
What We're Following See More »
President Obama has announced another round of commutations of prison sentences. Most of the 58 individuals named are incarcerated for possessions with intent to distribute controlled substances. The prisoners will be released between later this year and 2018.
The Daily Beast has unearthed a piece that Donald Trump wrote for Gear magazine in 2000, which anticipates his 2016 sales pitch quite well. "Perhaps it's time for a dealmaker who can get the leaders of Congress to the table, forge consensus, and strike compromise," he writes. Oddly, he opens by defending his reputation as a womanizer: "The hypocrites argue that a man who loves and appreciates beautiful women (and does so legally and openly) shouldn't become a national leader? Is there something wrong with appreciating beautiful women? Don't we want people in public office who show signs of life?"
An aide to Mitt Romney confirmed to the Washington Post that the 2102 GOP nominee will not attend the Republican convention this year. He joins the two living Republican presidents, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, as well as 2008 nominee John McCain in skipping the event. Even among living Republican nominees, that leaves only Bob Dole who could conceivably show up. Dole did say in January that he'd prefer Trump to Ted Cruz, but his age (92) could keep him from attending.
In a long-awaiting new rule, the Food and Drug Administration will ban sale of all tobacco products—including e-cigarettes—to those under 18. The rule takes effect in 90 days. It's part of a larger package of regulations that "gives FDA authority to regulate—but not to ban—all tobacco products, from e-cigarettes to cigars and hookahs." Meanwhile, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill on Wednesday that would bump the legal age to buy all tobacco products from 18 to 21.