The House leadership battles launched by the fall of departing Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) could exert unexpected influence over the GOP's approach to energy, pitting red states against blue states and coal-burners against natural gas users.
To be sure, much can change in the seven days before Republicans are set to choose their next majority leader and majority whip. But for now, the energy-policy dynamic among the quintet of likely leadership contenders is subtle, going beyond the anti-U.S. EPA, pro-drilling unity of the Republican conference to touch on personalities as well as the fuel profiles of individual districts.
Sitting Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), whose state has no coal mining and gets two-thirds of its electricity from natural gas, is facing possible challenges for majority leader from Reps. Jeb Hensarling and Pete Sessions of Texas, where coal provides nearly one-third of power generation. The whip's race is poised to become a face-off between Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), a champion of his state's offshore drilling industry, and Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), an anti-subsidy conservative from a purple district.
The stated policy differences among the candidates jockeying for place in a shaken-up Republican conference -- where the anticipated exit of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) within less than three years means that Cantor's successor could soon be third in line for the presidency -- are "very minimal," as Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) put it in an interview yesterday.
But what Franks termed the "significant irony" of scant policy daylight between McCarthy and the Texans, as well as between Scalise and Roskam, also highlights what the Arizonan called the value of "personality" and "emphasis." On that score, Hensarling or Sessions could emerge as a more muscular pro-fossil fuel alternative to McCarthy.
The majority leader's race opens up "a pretty big conversation about who's been tougher on EPA," said one GOP lobbyist close to leadership, speaking candidly on condition of anonymity.
McCarthy, the lobbyist added, is "consistently a fly in the ointment when it comes time to peck at EPA or do something on [energy] subsidies, something on" riders blocking the Obama administration from considering the social cost of carbon emissions when crafting future regulations.
Of the five most prominent leadership candidates, McCarthy is the only one whose district is home to a substantial amount of renewable energy generation.
Before Cantor's Capitol-quaking loss Tuesday to conservative challenger David Brat, a college professor and open skeptic of human-caused climate change, House Republicans already had made expansion of oil and gas drilling and the Keystone XL pipeline into essential planks of their political foundation. Neither Democrats nor Republicans see that reality changing.
"The message that we need more energy is so strong that I don't think any Republican leader is going to downplay that, no matter where they're from," Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) said in an interview yesterday.
But if Republicans decide to add more oil-patch, red-state flavor to a leadership slate that previously hailed from Ohio, Virginia, California and Washington, the degree to which domestic fossil fuels dominate the party's agenda ultimately could shift even further away from renewable-energy goals that are supported in both parties.
Even if a plum slot goes to Roskam, whose district President Obama won in 2008, the GOP lobbyist close to leadership predicted that challenging the White House's environmental priorities would rise even higher on the agenda.
"It's easy to be pro-production and hard on EPA if you're from Texas or Louisiana -- it's a lot harder if you're from suburban Chicago," the GOP lobbyist said of Roskam. "That doesn't go unnoticed."
Ahead of next week's GOP leadership elections, which must be restaged in January, E&E Daily has compiled profiles of the energy makeup in each likely candidate's home district.
McCarthy's district includes a slice of the San Joaquin Basin -- the state's most prolific oil reserve -- and a cluster of wells. The district features more than a dozen natural gas plants, with a total capacity exceeding 2,400 megawatts. The largest is a 965 MW facility owned by La Paloma Generating Co. LLC. On the border of McCarthy's district are two coal plants with a total 66 MW capacity.
Hundreds of wind turbines spin across the Tehachapi Pass and elsewhere in the district, including the Alta Wind Energy Center, one of the nation's largest wind farms with a capacity exceeding 1,500 MW. A handful of solar projects also pepper the area, with a capacity of more than 130 MW. The district contains at least 152 MW of hydropower and a 42 MW wood power plant.
Clusters of oil and gas wells dot Hensarling's district, which overlies part of the East Texas Basin. But activity is not as intense as elsewhere in the state, which led the nation in oil and gas production last year.
The district includes no renewable installations aside from a 3 MW biomass plant on its border near the Dallas suburbs. Its largest power plant is the 1,760 MW Forney Energy Center outside Dallas, and a few other large gas plants dot its borders. The district is home to at least four natural gas processing plants but no oil refineries.
Sessions' Dallas-area district borders a piece of Hensarling's much more sprawling territory, and it lacks much energy activity. Luminant Generation's 907 MW Lake Hubbard natural gas-fired power plant, which sits on the border of Sessions' and Hensarling's districts, is the only major piece of energy infrastructure in Sessions' backyard, according to an analysis of Energy Information Administration maps.
Among those vying for a leadership post, Roskam's suburban Chicago district has perhaps the least amount of energy production. It contains no major power plants, aside from a few small natural gas facilities and one small biomass facility, and no resource extraction or renewable energy production is conducted within its boundaries, according to EIA.
Scalise represents Louisiana's Gulf Coast, and his energy views are heavily influenced by his state's large offshore drilling industry. Hundreds of oil and gas wells stretch from the district's shores hundreds miles out into the Gulf of Mexico.
The district is also home to three large oil refineries, which together have a capacity to process more than a half a million barrels per day, and it is home to three natural gas processing plants with a total capacity of nearly 2.5 billion cubic feet per day. The few power plants in the district run mostly on natural gas, with one oil-fired plant, but none is larger than 75 MW. No renewable energy is generated there.