By Brian Noyes
This post is part of a series of insights from the Waggener Edstrom Public Affairs team that looks at four key issue areas that are driving policy conversations.
An important event to note for anyone following energy policy is the expected rise of Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to the chairmanship of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Wyden is anticipated to move into this role after the retirement of Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. at the conclusion of the 112th Congress in early January 2013.
Oil and gas development will not be an issue only for the Republican House of Representatives, as signs point to oil and gas production getting a boost in the Senate as well. Senator-elect Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., received support from fellow pro-energy Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who easily won re-election, and both she and returning Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., ran campaigns in support of the Keystone Pipeline, which has been opposed by environmentalists. The positive job impacts from oil and gas development have been key issues in swing states such as Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which also have Democratic senators. This points to the possibility of a new coalition of pro-development Democrats right at the same time the administration moves to address hydraulic fracturing, signaling Obama may face resistance from both chambers.
The election results show a mixed bag for renewable energy. President Obama and his team were scarred by the Solyndra fallout and will have to find innovative ways to boost green energy. MIT Tech Review highlighted two successful Department of Energy programs that could spur innovation in the next term. While renewable energies escaped the wrath of a Romney administration, they were dealt two broadsides at the state level, both in Michigan, where a proposal to enact a “25 by 2025” renewable energy standard lost by a wide margin, and in Arizona, where three Democratic members of the state’s Corporation Commission (and a self-described “Solar Team”) went down in defeat. The role that pocketbooks played was clear, as noted by victorious Republican Commissioner Bob Stump, who said, “Arizonans want clean energy, but they also want affordable energy.”
Based on the recent impacts from weather-related events such as Hurricane Sandy, some have pushed for increased focus on the issue of climate change. Others however caution against using a heavy-handed regulatory approach to address climate, instead pushing for a “national debate” about the issue. Obama’s position on climate change was a key factor for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to endorse him over Romney. Helping the administration: Three out of the five “climate deniers” targeted by the League of Conservation Voters lost their races, with another trailing in a close race, and current U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works ranking member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., also a thorn in the administration’s side, will have to step down due to committee term limits. While this will not remove opposition by any means, the recent high-profile impacts from Sandy coupled with these changes may help the issue resurface atop the Washington agenda, rather than continue as a third rail.