Why Won't the Obama Administration Explain Its Oil Export Policy to Senate Democrats?

The Commerce Department hasn't answered detailed questions from two Democratic lawmakers.

Two months ago, a pair of Democratic senators wrote to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker with a bunch of specific questions about nation's crude oil export ban.

They're still waiting for answers.

That's despite asking Commerce to respond in writing by July 14 to their detailed inquiry into Commerce's decision to let two companies export an ultralight form of crude that has been minimally processed.

A spokesman for Sen. Edward Markey, Eben Burnham-Snyder, said it's "frustrating not to have a response" to the letter that Markey authored with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez. Both lawmakers oppose lifting the ban.

Their letter, which says the two approvals may violate the ban, asked about the legal rationale for approving the two companies' applications, the status of other applications, Commerce's definition of crude oil, and several other topics. Burnham-Snyder called the lack of answers an "indication that Commerce may have made some of these decisions without having firm reasoning behind [them], given how long it has taken to respond."

The department has said there has been no change in policy, but Pritzker said in early July that there are "serious conversations" underway within the administration, echoing other officials who say the White House is examining the topic.

Surging domestic production is prompting oil producers and some lawmakers to press for relaxing the decades-old ban on most exports, calling the 1970s-era restrictions outdated. Commerce did not respond to an inquiry Wednesday on when it would respond in writing to Markey and Menendez.

But while Commerce hasn't written back yet, Markey did speak with Pritzker about exports in July, which Markey's office called a "very productive conversation."