Predicting US Energy Policy in GOP Senate
Tuesday October 28, 2014 By Matt Laslo
What would the nation’s energy policy look like if Republicans capture the Senate this fall? Capitol Hill reporter Matt Laslo caught up with Virginia lawmakers and energy analysts to find out the potential impact on the commonwealth.
There’s bipartisan consensus among most Virginia lawmakers that the state’s coast should be opened up for offshore energy exploration. But there’s still a federal moratorium in place, which has become a hot button issue in this year’s Senate race - even though both candidates say they support it. Republican candidate Ed Gillespie, a former advisor to President George W. Bush, says his Democratic opponent just gives lip service to the policy.
“Well, Senator Warner, like so many things, has not been the senator he said he would be when it comes to, you know, lifting the moratorium on deep-sea drilling off our coast here in the commonwealth. You know, that has been in place since he took office, and I think he says that he’s for it, but there’s a difference between saying you’re for it and fighting for it.”
Democratic Senator Mark Warner brushes aside that criticism.
“As someone who has strongly supported offshore oil off the coast of Virginia since I have come to the Senate as long as Virginia gets a share of the proceeds, as someone who has consistently supported the Keystone Pipeline to the point where people have protested against me, I'll stand on my record, my opponent...you know, political season is usually the time when folks make misleading charges.”
Even if Gillespie wins his long shot bid against the popular incumbent, what could he and other Republicans do to change energy policy with a Democrat in the White House? One way is through so-called policy riders. They’re policy positions that get attached to spending bills. Nick Loris, a senior policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, says directing the nation’s energy policy through spending bills is a good strategy if the GOP captures the Senate.
“Many of these riders may stop the EPA from its excessive and burdensome regulations.”
If Republicans have both chambers of Congress they’d control all the committees on Capitol Hill, which means it’d be easy for them to tuck new rules to limit the EPA to must pass bills to fund the government. Julian Boggs, a global warming advocate at Environment America, says Democrats would have to be on guard.
“The thing is we know exactly what Senator McConnell’s and Speaker Boehner’s game plan is. They haven’t made a secret of it and they’ve been doing this in the House of Representatives and trying to do it in the Senate for quite some time now. We’ve seen the most anti-environmental Congress.”
President Obama would likely veto many of those bills and that would set off a battle with Republicans. Even if the president won those fights, Loris says Republicans would be making important points.
“Now, whether they could actually get signed into law, you know, that’s a whole ‘nother story. But at the same time I think fighting the EPA and not letting these unelected officials go down this regulatory path without any say from our elected officials is something our Congress doesn’t want to see.”
Some of the last bills Republicans brought to the House floor before hitting the campaign trail focused on energy policy. Included in that last minute energy push was a vote to force the administration to accept the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry tar sands from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Virginia Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith says it was important for his party to signal to voters that they are pro energy.
“This is another sign of an energy policy that’s stagnate, that the President would like to see only the so called renewables of solar and wind and maybe a little algae thrown in there.”
Northern Virginia Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly says the GOP rhetoric outpaces reality.
“Facts are stubborn things-- under President Obama the gains managing production in the United States are exponential. We are in a glide path to becoming the world’s largest energy producer surpassing Saudi Arabia. We are now talking about exporting energy products.”
Griffith says that’s not because of the president.
“Oh absolutely it’s in spite of the President. That boom has happened on private land where the President didn't have the authority to shut them down. It has not happened offshore where it could have happened.”
One thing is clear, the heated debate over the nation’s energy policy isn’t cooling down any time soon.