A general view of the lower gasoline prices at the Sonoco Station on Route 22 on March 22, 2020 in Union, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
March 25, 2020
The Senate's sprawling $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill includes relief for airlines, hospitals, and legions of unemployed workers — but, in a major omission, not the U.S. oil sector.
One of the most influential industries on Capitol Hill was left out of the package that advanced early Wednesday, an apparent setback for a sector that had expected to easily secure $3 billion to fund the purchase of oil to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).
"Democrats forced SPR out of the bill," a Democratic aide familiar with the late-night negotiations said. The full text of the bill had not been released as of midday Wednesday.
President Donald Trump in recent weeks has pledged to buy oil for the reserve, or SPR, to help support struggling U.S. oil producers. The sector has seen crude prices crater to near-two-decade lows, the result of both a Saudi-Russia price war that's sent supplies of oil soaring and sudden evaporation in global demand due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
The plan to spend $3 billion to fund oil purchases as part of the latest relief measure, though, became the subject of mounting opposition in recent days from Democratic lawmakers and green energy groups. With the solar and wind sectors also on track to lose tens of thousands of jobs amid the economic crisis, the industries argued that if oil was receiving federal support, clean energy should be entitled to similar measures.
"The renewable sector is fully supportive of broader measures designed to support the economy, protect workers, and ensure the health care system can effectively respond to this pandemic," Bill Parsons, chief operating officer of the American Council on Renewable Energy, an advocacy group, said Tuesday in a statement to Cheddar. "But there's really no justification for including billions for the fossil fuel industry in the Senate stimulus bill without comparable emergency relief for the renewable sector, and we're seeing a pretty strong desire in both chambers of Congress to fix that glaring disparity in the final package."
The argument had tactical elements — for both sides of the aisle. Green groups and their Democratic supporters on Capitol Hill hope that eliminating the measures from the Senate's current stimulus package — its third — will help force Republican lawmakers back to the negotiating table for a fourth stimulus package, one that would include lucrative tax credits for wind, solar, battery storage, and electric vehicles that industry trade groups, environmental advocates, and left-leaning lawmakers have been seeking for years.
"While we're disappointed clean energy sector relief did not make it into the phase three stimulus package, we will continue working with Congress and other renewable energy leaders to find solutions to the specific challenges COVID-19 is causing our members," the American Wind Energy Association said in a statement.
Meanwhile, for Republican lawmakers — and Democrats eager to see the stimulus package move forward — eliminating funding for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve may have amounted to a defensive move, made to dissuade House Democratics from adding environmental provisions when the bill arrives on the other side of the Hill. The 1,100-page draft of a House stimulus package, which emerged earlier this week from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), for example, called for conditioning any aid for U.S. airlines on the industry reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.
As trade organizations and advocacy groups working from home across the nation's capital on Wednesday morning tried to get their hands on a draft of the bill and page through its provisions, oil industry groups sought to sound an upbeat note.
"We are confident that DOE will be able to meet the President's directive to purchase up to $3 billion in US-produced crude for the SPR and appreciate the Administration's commitment to both diplomatic and free-market solutions to the supply and demand crisis our industry is facing," Anne Bradbury, CEO of AXPC, the national trade association representing 25 of the top oil and gas onshore production companies in the U.S., said in a statement.