WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2014 – The best indicator of what lies ahead for U.S. energy policies and prospects could be the Nov. 4 verdicts in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota. In those states, as generally true for states with tight races this year, energy is a dividing issue.
The exception is Louisiana. That Senate race could result in a runoff election that leaves control of the chamber in doubt until December. Yet if incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu is re-elected, it will be with her record as chair of the key Energy and Natural Resources Committee of aligning with Republicans on energy issues. That record explains why Landrieu has raised more than $791,000 in petroleum industry campaign contributions, twice as much as her GOP challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy.
For South Dakota’s open Senate seat, previously favored Republican former Gov. Mike Rounds is struggling in a now unpredictable race. Echoing a GOP script used coast to coast, Rounds charges that electing either Democrat Rick Weiland or Independent Larry Pressler would saddle consumers with “higher energy costs.” To help sell this rein-in-EPA message, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and other GOP groups are injecting last-minute millions to reinvigorate a campaign which had been expected to be a GOP slam-dunk to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson.
Republican groups are also pumping outside money into Kansas to help incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts defeat Independent Greg Orman. Roberts has also gotten help from a long list of GOP stars including Sens. Ted Cruz, Tom Coburn and Rand Paul, former Sen. Bob Dole, former governors Jeb Bush of Florida and Sarah Palin of Alaska, and Congressman Paul Ryan. As part of his campaign pitch, Roberts calls for an “all-of-the-above” energy policy to include building the Keystone pipeline. He insists it’s time to “quit this war against fossil fuels and our oil and gas industry.” In contrast, Orman calls for an “energy renaissance right here in Kansas” based on “policies that make wind energy viable in this country.”
If energy issues help Republicans win the six seats they need to control the Senate, expect to hear lots more about the threat of higher energy costs and the need to re-write energy and environmental policy. One reason: if both the House and Senate are run by Republicans, as most forecasters expect, then all committees will be chaired by the GOP. That change will enable House and Senate panels to coordinate their legislative work rather than cancel each other out.
However, the Republicans’ expected slim majority in the Senate wouldn’t be enough to guarantee overcoming presidential vetoes of legislation passed by a GOP-controlled Congress. But with the House and Senate working together rather than at cross purposes, political observers say, there would be substantial pressure on the Obama White House to replace what some see as a no-surrender liberal agenda with a more moderate approach toward energy and other issues.
The Obama administration already relies on using executive actions and regulatory actions to achieve what it can’t accomplish legislatively in a gridlocked Congress. The Republican hope is that a united House and Senate at least would curb White House activism.
If joint House/Senate priorities are set by Republicans starting in 2015, energy policy reform likely would start with trying to limit the EPA’s authority in areas including clean air, climate change and clean water regulations – and with pressuring Obama to approve the Keystone pipeline to pump Canadian tar sands oil down to Texas refineries, reducing the railroad congestion which has backlogged grain shipments. Power plants, manufacturers, the petroleum industry, and farming operations could expect unified congressional pushback against the allegedly high economic costs of curbing greenhouse gas emissions, as Republican Leader Mitch McConnell points out below:
On energy policy, one target has been the controversial 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires blending biofuels with gasoline. EPA is expected to announce its 2014 RFS volume levels in mid-Nov., nearly a year after the Nov. 30, 2013 “deadline.” In December the EPA is scheduled to publish coal ash disposal regulations and a report on fracking, followed by announcing the 2015 RFS in February, three months late.
Having Republicans win a Senate majority could force a rethinking of those EPA plans, and at least postponing any EPA action in areas including fracking and coal ash, in a begrudging administration effort to build a productive rather than adversarial relationship with the new GOP-led Congress.
Also possible – a go-ahead for the broadly supported but stalled bipartisan Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill (although with a new title if incumbent Democrat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen loses her re-election bid in New Hampshire).
Any roll-back in biofuels requirements won’t please Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen who wants more support for renewable energy, not less.
Dinneen explained in an Agri-Pulse interview that even before the expected GOP takeover of the Senate, “The Renewable Fuel Standard which would ensure a market for second-generation biofuels is under attack and the administration is walking away from it while embracing new oil and natural gas supplies from fracking . . . It seems the administration has adopted the narrative of the oil companies that we don’t need renewable fuels because we’re developing all these new supplies from shale oil . . . We need tax legislation to level the playing field so that biofuels projects have access to MLPs, master limited partnerships, as fracking operations do. We need tax incentives that would at least offset some of the preferential treatment that petroleum and fracking have.”
Advanced Biofuels Association President Michael McAdams, a former staffer for Texas congressmen and a former BP policy adviser, expects benefits from having a Republican-run Senate. He tells Agri-Pulse that if Republicans win Senate control, he foresees gridlock being replaced by the House and Senate working together to develop responsible policies which put the GOP in a better position heading into the 2016 presidential elections.
McAdams says for energy policy, “we’ve had no movement either in the House or the Senate because the two bodies are run by two different parties . . . If you have one party running both the House and the Senate, it makes it far more likely that they are going to try to get things done.”
Based on meetings with House Energy & Commerce Committee staff, McAdams said that if the GOP controls both the House and Senate there’ll be incentives to pass legislation “in a bipartisan fashion to get more moderate bills” which Obama would sign. He adds that he’s also encouraged because Republicans have “clearly tried to pick candidates who are more mainstream and more thoughtful in how they deal with issues like the environment . . . so they don’t wind up losing seats where otherwise they should win.”
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