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 GrassleyThe case for protecting America's intelligence agency whistleblowers Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee Feinstein: Comey memos 'going to be turned over' MORE (R-Iowa) and John ThuneJohn ThuneGOP frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing Senate takes lead on Trump’s infrastructure proposal Senate feels pressure for summer healthcare vote 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 FischerSenate takes lead on Trump’s infrastructure proposal Updated fuel regulations would modernize options at gas pumps McConnell promises women can take part in healthcare meetings 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 HoevenOvernight Healthcare: Divisions emerge in Senate over preexisting conditions GOP senators meet with insurer for input on ObamaCare repeal Senate GOP short on ideas for stabilizing ObamaCare markets 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 could pass new Russia sanctions this summer Overnight Cybersecurity: Bad Russian intel may have swayed Comey's handling of Clinton probe | Apple sees spike in data requests | More subpoenas for Flynn | DOJ's plan for data warrants Overnight Finance: GOP bill would leave 23M more uninsured, says CBO | Trump aides defend budget | Mnuchin asks for clean debt hike before August | Ryan says House could pass bill without border tax MORE (S.C.) and Susan CollinsSusan CollinsSenate takes lead on Trump’s infrastructure proposal Navy leaders defend Trump's lackluster ship budget Overnight Healthcare: CBO fallout | GOP senators distance themselves from House bill | Trump budget chief blasts score | Schumer says House bill belongs 'in the trash' 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 GardnerSenate panel could pass new Russia sanctions this summer Overnight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts Senators air grievances on Trump energy budget, delays MORE (R-Colo.), Rob PortmanRob PortmanSenate panel could pass new Russia sanctions this summer Time to fix our national parks GOP senators bristle at Trump's Medicaid cuts MORE (R-Ohio), Dean HellerDean HellerNew CBO score triggers backlash Overnight Healthcare: CBO fallout | GOP senators distance themselves from House bill | Trump budget chief blasts score | Schumer says House bill belongs 'in the trash' Five takeaways from the CBO healthcare score MORE (R-Nev.) and Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampSanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill GOP senators distance themselves from House ObamaCare repeal bill Separating fact from fiction in the Regulatory Accountability Act 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 BarrassoOvernight Finance: Dems introduce minimum wage bill | Sanders clashes with Trump budget chief | Border tax proposal at death's door Overnight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts Top GOP senators tell Trump to ditch Paris climate deal 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.