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Energy Policy in the 116th Congress

House Democrats Readying to Tackle Climate Change & Energy

With House Democrats assuming the majority in the 116th Congress, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) will become the Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, with Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), the current chairman, leading Republicans as ranking member.

Rep. Pallone has served New Jersey’s 6th congressional district since 1988 and has had a seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee since 1992. Rep. Pallone’s experience in energy legislation extends beyond his tenure on the Energy and Commerce Committee. He is also a member of the Congressional Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus, the Congressional Research and Development Caucus, and the Congressional Oil and National Security Caucus.

Rep. Pallone says he intends to “conduct vigorous oversight of the Trump Administration, so Washington works again for the people not the special interests.” The congressman has also said he intends to put forward proposals to “rebuild America by investing in green energy, drinking water and broadband infrastructure; address climate change by looking at the impacts on communities and the economy, and holding the Administration accountable for its policies that make it worse; and, restore environmental protections gutted over the last two years.”

The Energy and Commerce Committee is also expected to tackle oversight of the Administration’s energy and environmental deregulatory efforts, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s revision of the coal ash rule, which Rep. Pallone called a “victory for the coal industry and a blow to public health and the environment.”

Other issues the incoming chairman will be looking to advance include modernization of the energy infrastructure, including updating cyber security, expanding renewable energy, and addressing climate change. Along with the chairs of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and the Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Pallone is already planning for two days of hearings on climate change in early 2019. Other issues Rep. Pallone has championed in the past include battery storage and microgrids, which he has said are “uniquely positioned to provide considerable resiliency benefits to the electric grid.”

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) is expected to chair the Subcommittee on Energy, and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) is expected to chair the Subcommittee on Environment. Rep. Rush stated that he intends to tackle grid modernization, updating natural gas and lead water pipelines, and oversight of Executive Branch agencies among other issues. Rep. Tonko recently stated that climate change would be his top priority, and he intends to fight for air and water protections, investments in drinking water infrastructure, and implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Democrats are also creating a new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to be chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL).

Just ahead of departing Washington for the holidays, now-retired Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act as a companion bill to a House version introduced by Reps. Francis Rooney (R-FL), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Charlie Crist (D-FL), and now-retired John Delaney (D-MD). The bill was intended to help reduce U.S. carbon pollution by 40% in 12 years, with a 91% reduction target by 2050 (based on 2015 levels). The bill proposes to price carbon at $15 per metric ton of CO2e and increase the price by $10 annually. The Treasury Department would return 100% of the net revenue to taxpayers. While the bill did not advance before the end of the 115th Congress, it offers an indication of potential bipartisanship on carbon in the 116th Congress.

With divided government, any successful progressive energy and climate change agenda in the House risks hitting a roadblock in the Republican-controlled Senate. However, shining a light on these issues with hearings and oversight can be a powerful tool, and we expect it to be used mightily. Beyond that, House Democrats are hopeful that by drawing attention to energy and climate change issues they can generate enough bipartisan spirit to advance legislation. They will also use their majority to make an impact on energy and climate policy through the appropriations process by directing federal dollars toward efforts that support a more progressive approach.

Senate Energy Agenda & Leadership

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will remain as chair of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee in the new Congress, while the previous ranking member Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is giving up that post to become the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee – an opportunity which opened up with the defeat of the previous ranking member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) in the November elections. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has been selected to lead Democrats as ranking member of the committee, overcoming opposition from progressives who object to his views on energy policy, especially his past support for the coal industry.

Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell fought throughout the current 115th Congress to secure passage of their comprehensive bipartisan energy bill, the Energy and Natural Resources Act, commonly referred to as the “Murkowski-Cantwell bill” but were unsuccessful in bringing the measure to the Senate floor. They had also introduced the bill in the 114th Congress and secured Senate passage, but the legislation was not approved by the House. The legislation has 11 titles: Efficiency, Infrastructure, Supply, Accountability, Conservation, Federal Land Management, National Park System Management, Sportsmen’s Access, Water Infrastructure, Natural Hazards, and Indian Energy. We do not expect a reintroduction of the measure, particularly with Sen. Cantwell’s expected move to the Commerce Committee, but the bill does offer some insight into the priorities Sen. Murkowski will pursue in the 116th Congress. In lieu of a comprehensive energy bill, a more likely scenario is that we see the committee seeking to move smaller pieces of energy legislation.

Also worth noting is that Sen. Murkowski also chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for the Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency, and other related agencies, and has said that she is in favor of bringing back earmarks in the 116th Congress.

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