WASHINGTON, Oct 30 – The 2014 U.S. mid-term elections could shake up Congress in the midst of two major transformations in energy and environmental policy.
A boom in the production of shale oil and gas has turned the United States into an energy superpower, putting the country on course to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest oil producer.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has moved ahead with its Climate Action Plan, a strategy to use regulations to address global warming without action from Congress.
Current polling suggests Republicans will take control of the Senate and hold onto the House. If so, experts expect to see a focus on the following key energy and environmental issues:
EPA CARBON REGULATIONS: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, locked in a tight re-election race, has repeatedly said he would rein in Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency as it finalizes a proposal to regulate pollution from coal-fired power plants. Obama would likely veto any bills that seek to dismantle the EPA’s program. If Republicans take control of the Senate, McConnell has said he may use high-pressure tactics to challenge Obama, such as attaching riders to rein in the EPA via must-pass spending bills that only require a simple majority to pass.
As McConnell mulls using riders to challenge the EPA, Republican Senator James Inhofe, a climate change skeptic, is poised to lead the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and use the gavel to try to weaken, scrutinize and agitate the EPA and its climate change and environmental protection agenda.
KEYSTONE: The new Congress is likely to throw the controversial Keystone pipeline back into the spotlight. Republican lawmakers say they have enough votes to pass a bill to approve Keystone, and can advance it with a new Senate leader in place. The $10 billion project to connect Canadian oil sands with U.S. refineries still awaits approval by President Obama, who has said he would only do so if convinced the project will not exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions.
Some political observers think Republicans will be keen to push a Keystone bill with support from certain Democrats before they take more partisan steps on the EPA.
McConnell has also said he would consider using riders to must-pass legislation to force a Keystone vote, putting Obama in the position of choosing between vetoing important legislation or accepting a congressional measure.
OIL AND GAS EXPORTS: Whether or not Republicans win control of the Senate, the issue of exporting the country’s bounty of oil and natural gas will be a major focus in 2015.
Lawmakers may work first on a bill to streamline the Department of Energy’s process to approve exports of liquefied natural gas, which is likely to have bipartisan support.
If Republicans win the Senate, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski would become the chair of the Senate Energy Committee and is expected to advance the debate over whether to lift the four-decade old ban on exporting crude oil. Most lawmakers in the House have not taken strong positions on the subject but oil producers and refiners are expected to ramp up lobbying in the lower chamber.
If Democrats hold the Senate and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu retains her seat and committee chairmanship, she is also expected to advance the debate. If she loses, Washington’s Maria Cantwell, as either committee chair or ranking member, would focus more on clean energy technology and biofuels. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, editing by Ros Krasny and David Gregorio)