CAP Selectively Quotes Reports to Bolster Oil Export Ban

Republicans call out liberal group for misrepresenting Congressional Research Service findings

Oil pumps in California / AP
• January 30, 2014 3:50 pm


Republicans criticized the left wing Center for American Progress at a Thursday Senate hearing for releasing a report that they say misrepresents the findings of studies on crude oil exports.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing explored the economic implications of the nation’s ban on oil exports. Proponents of the ban say it keeps American energy prices down. Opponents say it needlessly restricts economic growth.

Daniel Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, made the case on Thursday for keeping the export ban in place.

"Lifting the ban on crude oil exports could squander [the country’s] new energy security and price stability," Weiss told the committee.

He also coauthored a recent CAP report making the same case. That report misrepresented a number of facts in pushing to maintain the export ban, committee Republicans said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) disputed its claims regarding oil prices in her home state after the export ban was lifted for Alaskan crude in 1996.

"After Congress eliminated the ban, gasoline prices rose in that area," CAP’s report states. "This experience suggests that lifting the crude oil export ban could similarly raise gasoline prices."

Murkowski pointed out that the 2008 Congressional Research Service cited in CAP’s own report does not actually support the case for continuing the national export ban.

"It’s important that we make sure that we’ve got the full quotes [from the report] in context," she said.

The full quotes tell a different story.

"Restricting U.S. oil exports would not lead to lower prices for products such as gasoline and diesel fuel," the report stated. In fact, it noted, "upward pressure might be placed on oil prices" by export restrictions.

Murkowski said that lifting the export ban would bring down gasoline prices.

"The impact on American consumers is critical," she said in her opening statement. "Opening up world markets to U.S. crude oil will lower the global price, which will in turn lower the global prices for petroleum products."

Gasoline prices were a central focus of the hearing, as senators on both sides of the aisle probed guests for information on whether or not the ban is affecting prices at the pump and what the impact of lifting it would be.

Weiss’ report cited another CRS report, from 2006, on the Alaska case study. That report noted that gasoline prices on the west coast, where Alaskan crude was primarily refined and sold, declined relative to the national average after the state ceased exporting crude oil in 2000.

However, CAP’s report includes an ellipsis in its CRS quote. The omitted portion noted, "oil exported represented less than 3 percent of regional consumption—and was likely replaced by imports at equivalent prices."

Exports "could have contributed somewhat to the price disparity," CRS wrote, noncommittally. The report goes on to cast doubt on the conclusions that Weiss drew from it.

"In addition to crude supply and price, there are many other factors contributing to higher West Coast gasoline prices," it noted. "These factors should have had significant bearing even during the period of crude exports."

Weiss also cited the Washington Post, which, he said, "agreed that lifting the export bam could lead to higher oil prices."

His report quoted two sentences from an article by the Post’s Brad Plumer. However, it left out portions that cast doubt on CAP’s position.

Plumer floated the possibility that lifting the export ban would increase prices. "But that’s not the whole story," he added, in an aside that escaped mention in CAP’s report.

"Analysts at Citigrpoup have argued that lifting the export ban would cut the price of Brent crude," Plumer wrote. "And that, in turn could benefit Americans who rely on Brent—like those on the East Coast."