The GOP’s Senate Takeover Implications on U.S. Energy Policy

In the wake of the GOP’s Senate takeover in this year’s midterm elections, implications for federally driven climate policy looms. What issues will be prioritized by Republicans under the likely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? What are the implications for cleantech entrepreneurs? Here’s what the pundits are saying:

First stop, The Wall Street Journal. The paper reports that Congressional leaders in both houses have limited time to pass legislation before the 2016 presidential campaign season steals their spotlight. So expect the GOP to introduce bills quickly after the commencement of the legislative sessions beginning next year.

Key issues to watch for include:

– Approving the Keystone XL pipeline (If President Obama vetoes a stand-alone bill, Republicans will try to push it through a spending bill or other must-pass legislation, according to the WSJ).  The New York Times points out that “combining the pipeline with new energy exports, expanded exploration and added efficiency could result in a bipartisan consensus on energy policy.”

– Scaling back Environmental Protection Agency rules to cut power plant carbon emissions.

– Expediting federal reviews of natural-gas exports.

– Funding the storage of nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain.

These priorities will be under the direction of Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) who is gearing up to take control of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Next up, the Washington Post, which says to keep an eye on Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican likely to chair the Environment and Public Works Committee. Some fast facts about Inhofe:

– His 2012 book “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future” lays out the belief that “the EPA needs to be constrained,” according to the paper.

– He argued against EPA directives that power plants and oil refineries account for greenhouse gas emissions should they choose to expand in a way that significantly increases greenhouse gas pollution.

– He called for congressional action to limit EPA regulations on clean water, the newspaper reports.

On the Positive Side…

While much media attention has been paid on efforts to scale back environmental regulations, the WSJ and others say we can expect to see legislators work toward some bipartisan solutions on energy efficiency, which in the past has been overshadowed by other policy fights. In Congress’s remaining weeks, we could even see bills geared toward optimizing energy use at data centers, says The Hill.  And the U.S. Dept. of Energy will hold a hearing later this month to discuss new rules for more efficient power cords for electronics.

And green groups such as the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters (LCV), and the NRDC, are touting victory in certain elections, says the Hill. Newly elected pro-clean energy senators who received outside spending from green groups include: Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and former Maine Gov. Angus King (I).

And California’s Proposition 1, a $7.5 billion water bond, was approved with 67% of the vote. Prop. 1 is expected to promote new water technologies and infrastructure to help improve the state’s fresh water supply. It was backed by the NRDC, the Nature Conservatory, and Audubon California, according to Northern California news outlet, KQED.

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