WASHINGTON -- The fastest-moving legislative train on Capitol Hill is a bill to lift the four-decade ban on exports of American crude oil. But last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) announced that she'd had enough of the lobbying push from the nation's largest oil companies.
"The most obvious effect of lifting the crude oil export ban would be to produce enormous profits for a number of big oil companies," Warren said at a Senate Banking Committee hearing. "And that is a reason by itself to be skeptical of study after study and expert after expert that have been funded by big oil to try to sell this deal. ... Lifting the ban without thoroughly considering and addressing the potential environmental consequences sounds pretty darn reckless.Watch Warren's full comments in the video above.
President Gerald Ford implemented the oil export ban in 1975 to protect an energy resource with major national security implications. The recent boom in fracking and domestic drilling has flooded the market, driving down crude oil prices and crimping profits for Exxon-Mobil and other big oil producers. Oil companies have financed a host of studies proclaiming that shipping domestic oil abroad will lower gas prices at home, but independent economists have mixed views.
The environmental impact is more straightforward -- allowing companies to export oil from the United States will facilitate more drilling and fracking and result in more greenhouse gas emissions from expanded fossil fuel use. At the hearing, Warren blasted Republicans on the committee for relying on environmental testimony from a climate change denier.
"We've held a hearing on the export ban in July," Warren said. "But the only witness -- the only witness testifying on the climate effects of this bill was a conservative economist who thinks, quote, 'No one really knows' the extent to which humans are causing climate change."
Warren has been campaigning against conflicts of interest in economic studies of late. Last week, economist Robert Litan resigned from the Brookings Institution after Warren sent the prestigious think tank a letter highlighting a sloppy study he performed with funding from an investment company.
The oil export ban is expected to sail through the House with strong support from the GOP majority, and a bill to lift it has also cleared two Senate committees. There are some exemptions to the ban -- Canada, for instance, can receive American oil shipments -- and President Barack Obama's Commerce Department has been approving additional shipments to other countries.
"The bill in front of us would upend decades of energy policy," Warren said at the hearing. "And if the oil industry's rosy projections turn out to be wrong, the bill has next to nothing in the way of environmental or economic protections. We may need changes in the oil export ban, but any changes we make should be based on independent data and should address legitimate concerns. Big oil may not like that, but we weren't sent here to work for them."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly claimed the House had already passed an oil export ban.