Energy Policy in the New Congress

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski is waiting for the full Senate to debate her energy bill.

The oil and gas industry has many reasons to cheer a GOP-led Senate. While “drill baby drill” won’t quite be the rallying cry in the new Congress–Republicans don’t have a veto-proof majority–there are still a handful of energy policy items that could emerge from a Republican majority, some of which President Barack Obama might even support. A near certainty is that Republicans will try to send a Keystone XL oil pipeline approval bill to the Oval Office early next year. But Democrats could derail that plan by filibustering the legislation. What’s less certain is the future of the decades-old ban on oil exports. While several studies conclude that easing energy export restrictions would help the U.S. economy, the public thinks lifting the ban would raise gas prices, meaning the issue might be too divisive even with Republicans holding the House and Senate. Expediting oil exports might be more likely to come from the Obama administration, which has so far been amenable to lifting some energy trade barriers.

Proposed EPA regulations will also be targeted by Republicans, and the almost-certain-to-be new Senate Majority Leader,  Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said his party might look to dismantle the rules by attaching riders to must-pass legislation. Lastly, the 2015 UN climate conference is on the horizon, and while the White House wants to bring a binding agreement to the gathering, Senate ratification with a GOP majority will be a very tough sell.

Below we break down the biggest changes coming to the energy policy world in the 114th Congress.

Murkowski on Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is largely favored to take the gavel on the Senate Energy Committee. The Alaska Republican laid out her policy priorities in a speech to international energy leaders in March. Murkowski has been pushing oil exports for years, and she’s big on opening up more federal lands to drilling. Although America is in the midst of an energy boom, “the challenge now is to keep it going,” Murkowski said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who currently heads the Senate Energy Committee, is headed for a runoff with her Republican challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy. If Landrieu loses, it’s unclear who would take her place as the top Democrat on the energy panel.

Inhofe vs. Vitter for Senate EPW

Republican Sens. James Inhofe (Okla.) and David Vitter (La.) are competing to replace Democrat Barbara Boxer (Calif.) as head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Either would represent a massive direction shift for the panel. Boxer was mostly supportive of the EPA’s regulations on issues relating to greenhouse gases, ozone levels and waterway classifications, as well as incentives to boost the renewable energy industry. But with Vitter or Inhofe at the helm, expect the committee to be a thorn in the EPA’s side by initiating investigations into the crafting of the agency’s proposed greenhouse gas rules.

While Inhofe has been less vocal on environmental issues recently, he twice championed the fight against cap-and-trade legislation in 2007 and 2010. He also is a vocal about his belief that climate change does not exist. Giving him the gavel might be a risky move for the GOP ahead of the 2016 election, as the electorate distances itself from an absolutist rejection of climate science. Vitter, though not as much of a hardliner on climate as Inhofe, still doubts climate change is caused by human activity and has been critical of the White House’s approach to regulating carbon. His primary objectives as chairman would be to undermine the Army Corps’ expanded categorization of U.S. waterways, the EPA’s proposed ozone-level standards and the administration’s carbon emissions rules.

Pallone/ Eshoo Fight Contines for E&C

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) will retain his chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Meanwhile, two Democrats – Reps. Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Anna Eshoo of California – are poised to butt heads over who will succeed Rep. Henry Waxman of California as the panel’s ranking member. Pallone supports renewable energy tax credits, and as a New Jersey shoreline native, he’s against offshore drilling. Eshoo, who would advocate for a similar agenda, is big on energy efficiency, clean energy investment and fuel economy standards. House Democrats will vote on the position in the weeks following the election.


Morning Consult