Last week’s elections mean changes in Congressional leadership and a possible policy shift for advanced energy. Read on for AEE’s analysis of what the elections could mean for advanced energy policy, both in the short and long term.
When the 114th Congress convenes in January, newly Republican leadership in the Senate will likely entail a priority shift towards fossil fuels for the next Congress. Prior to winning a hard-fought election battle in coal-rich Kentucky, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to roll back the carbon pollution standards issued by the EPA. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who will chair the Senate on Committee Energy and Natural Resources, is expected to push for movement on the Keystone XL pipeline, natural gas and oil exports and onshore and offshore oil drilling. Other newly appointed chairs include Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch of the Senate Finance Committee and Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran of the Senate Appropriations Committee. In the House, Rep. Paul Ryan will likely replace retiring Rep. Dave Camp as the new Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
While Republican leadership has largely opposed the new EPA Clean Power Plan, any new bill to repeal the carbon pollution standards that passes through Congress would likely be vetoed by President Obama. Notably, the White House highlighted its commitment to the new carbon pollution standards on Wednesday as the President struck a deal with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to limit greenhouse emissions over the next 10 to 15 years. The announcement came just twelve days after the White House unveiled sustainability and climate plans for federal agencies to reduce overall emissions by using energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.
There are numerous “must pass” pieces of legislation that Congress needs to consider quickly, including the tax extenders package, appropriations for the government, and re-authorization of defense spending. Despite the overwhelming popularity and need for these packages and vows from Democratic and Republican leaders to seek common ground, it remains unclear whether and how Congress will act.
2016 is a presidential election year, and with numerous potential presidential candidates serving in Congress, it is reasonable to expect that any serious attempts to legislate will need to conclude by the end of 2015. This compressed congressional calendar will minimize the likelihood that major legislation will get signed into law. Despite this and other political constraints, however, the 114th Congress will also have some opportunities to move the ball forward. Despite success during the mid-terms, GOP leadership will need to show the electorate that they have a governing philosophy. This could lead to smaller scale bipartisan opportunities, such as aspects of the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill.
Additionally, both parties have identified reforming the tax code as an area of bipartisan agreement. AEE believes it is crucial to engage in this debate and find a long lasting, technology neutral tax policy that will help the deployment of all advanced energy technologies.
The White House has sent very clear signals that its work through EPA’s Clean Power Plan is a major priority that it will protect. In addition to the international commitments made with China, it is evident EPA’s efforts to address greenhouse gas emissions are considered a legacy item to the President and one that he will likely protect from Congressional intervention. AEE and our partners are deeply involved in the EPA work, working both at the state level, to assist states in finding low cost and effective compliance strategies, and at the federal level, to engage with leaders in Washington, DC to ensure a smart final rule that accounts for the potential of our industries.
AEE recently submitted comments to EPA on the Clean Power Plan. Read how the EPA has underestimated the potential for advanced energy contribution.