Ethanol fight complicates push to repeal Obama drilling rule

Ethanol fight complicates push to repeal Obama drilling rule
© Keren Carrion

A handful of GOP senators have said they might hold up legislation to repeal an Obama administration oil and natural gas drilling rule to secure a vote on an ethanol policy change.

The group, led by Sens. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleySenate panel questions Lynch on alleged FBI interference The Hill's 12:30 Report GOP senator surprises top Dem with birthday cake MORE (R-Iowa) and John ThuneJohn ThuneSenate panel unveils aviation bill with consumer protections, drone fix Four Senate conservatives say they oppose ObamaCare repeal bill Live coverage: Senate GOP unveils its ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (R-S.D.), have long pushed legislation to overturn federal policy that effectively prevents sales of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol — known as E15 — during the summer months due to volatility concerns.

Now they want to trade a Senate vote on that bill for a vote on a resolution that would overturn limits on methane emissions from oil and natural gas drilling on federal land.

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Thune said Wednesday that he and his allies tried and failed to get the provision into the omnibus spending bill that was unveiled Sunday and will get a vote this week. Since the methane legislation is a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, it cannot be combined into a single bill with the ethanol policy change.

“We tried to get it included in the omni, unsuccessfully. So we’re looking now for other vehicles and seeing … how methane fits into that picture,” Thune said.

Lobbyists familiar with the discussions say that Thune, Grassley, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Sen. Deb FischerDeb FischerIvanka Trump turns to House GOP on paid family leave GOP senators pleased with Ivanka Trump meeting on family leave, child tax credits McCain threatens to block Trump's deputy Defense nominee MORE (R-Neb.) are leading the charge for the ethanol vote.

“I can’t give you an update on it,” Grassley said on Wednesday.

“I can say, as of yesterday, no," there isn't a deal, he said, adding, "but if there’s been anything done overnight, I don’t know.”

Fischer declined to say whether she is involved in the move to exchange a vote on methane for the ethanol provision, only noting that she is the lead sponsor of the ethanol legislation.

“I think it’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” she said.

Sen. John HoevenJohn HoevenGOP considers keeping ObamaCare taxes Senators want governors involved in health talks Republicans go to battle over pre-existing conditions MORE (R-N.D.), a strong supporter of the methane legislation, said the ethanol change makes sense and he wants to resolve it. But it should be dealt with separately, he said.

“I think it’s something we can straighten out, but I don’t think that should be a problem as far as the vote that we’re going to have on the CRA,” he told reporters. “I think that’s an issue we can get figured out, but it would obviously have to be separate from this.”

Time is running out for the methane resolution. Under the terms of the Congressional Review Act, which provides the Senate a window of 60 legislative days to overrule a regulation, the Senate has a May 11 deadline for passing the bill, Hoeven said on Tuesday.

Even before the ethanol issue rose to the surface, Republican supporters of the methane resolution have struggled to secure the votes they need to move it to the floor.

Two Republican senators — Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamSenate panel questions Lynch on alleged FBI interference The Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill Judiciary Committee to continue Russia probe after Mueller meeting MORE (S.C.) and Susan CollinsSusan CollinsSenate Republicans reluctant to rush vote on healthcare bill GOP senator defends funding Planned Parenthood GOP sen: 'We should not be voting' on healthcare this week MORE (Maine) — have indicated opposition to the methane bill, meaning supporters can only afford to lose one more vote before the resolution flounders.

Four senators are believed to be undecided on the measure: Cory GardnerCory GardnerKoch political leader says GOP healthcare bill not conservative enough Motorcycle officer in Pence motorcade injured after crash Pence meets with Koch brother in Colorado MORE (R-Colo.), Rob PortmanRob PortmanSanders: GOP healthcare bill is a 'moral outrage' Opioid crisis threatens GOP ObamaCare repeal A tale of two drug bills — one proposed bill will worsen the drug prices crisis MORE (R-Ohio), Dean HellerDean HellerSenate Republicans reluctant to rush vote on healthcare bill Conway: 'We're very confident' healthcare bill will pass Senate Price: GOP healthcare bill will ‘absolutely’ bring premiums down MORE (R-Nev.) and Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampSenate Dem undecided on 2018 reelection run Trump ‘regulatory czar’: Two-for-one rule can work Congress should just say no to more green energy handouts MORE (D-N.D.). If any of them decide to oppose the resolution, it will fall short of the 51-vote threshold Republicans need for passage.

Outside groups have waged a lobbying war over the methane rule, an Obama administration effort to limit venting and flaring of methane pollution from drilling sites on federal land.

The oil industry support the CRA resolution, saying it would unwind a regulation that could hamstring producers who are already working to cut down on methane leaks on their own.

Environmentalists say the rule is necessary for limiting emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas with 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

The White House has not telegraphed its position on the resolution, though Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoDem senator: GOP's healthcare approach will 'devastate Medicaid' Top GOP senator: ObamaCare 'sabotaged' insurance market Sunday shows preview: Senate healthcare debate heats up MORE (R-Wyo.), its lead sponsor, said he expects President Trump would sign it.

Trump has signed 12 other CRA resolutions stripping rules issued late in the Obama administration from the books. Trump signed an executive order in March to start undoing numerous Obama rules, including the methane one, though that process goes through agency rulemaking and would take much longer than an instantaneous congressional effort.