E&E's Abruzzese and Lehmann discuss future of climate, energy policy under new Congress

With Republicans making gains in both the House and Senate, will there be progress on environment and energy policy next year? During today's OnPoint, E&E reporters Sarah Abruzzese and Evan Lehmann discuss the impact of this week's elections on the future of policy. They also explain how a Republican majority in the House and gains in the Senate may help move efforts to stop U.S. EPA's regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today are E&E reporters Sara Abruzzese and Evan Lehmann. Thank you both for being here.

Sarah Abruzzese: Thank you for having us.

Evan Lehmann: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Evan, a big win for the GOP this week in both the House and the Senate. In his postelection speech President Obama indicated that he believes there are areas for bipartisanship moving forward on energy policy. Does the new congressional makeup lend itself to bipartisanship? What do you think?

Evan Lehmann: Well, I think we'll see. There are some who believe more Republicans could create or facilitate cooperation. They might have more say in the groundwork of legislation for example and have ownership in legislation and then support it in the end. There are others who think that it will halt progress entirely through the 2012 presidential campaign.

Monica Trauzzi: Sarah, the president also declared cap and trade essentially dead for the next few years, possibly three years. Is this a big roadblock for environmental policy in general?

Sarah Abruzzese: Well, I mean cap and trade was already essentially dead when the Senate failed to act after the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act in 2009. That effectively killed, you know, a full - such a big measure. But basically environmentalists knew that this was coming. They've already changed tactics and they're going to kind of push for incremental changes, so a renewable electricity standard, increased appliance and building efficiencies and increased on mobile efficiencies.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, renewable electricity standard, does not have legs in this sort of political climate?

Sarah Abruzzese: Well, that's a really good question. I mean it passed out of the Senate Energy Committee with bipartisan support already. There is bipartisan support of it, but with the House, it's really an open question. They're going to want to make some progress and whether this is where they make it, that remains to be seen.

Monica Trauzzi: Right and some of the items specifically that the president cited were nuclear and natural gas, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, all those things that he could see bipartisanship happening. Do you believe that both sides can come together on those issues, on nuclear, natural gas?

Evan Lehmann: Well, those are pretty easy issues I think generally, you know. They're pretty simple. They're small bites, single hits, doubling hits, chunks as the president likes to call them. On nuclear, you know the president has been pushing that forward for the past year. In terms of the renewable electricity standard, a lot of analysts think that the current standard without nuclear will move in the lame duck or next year unless there's some compromise by Democrats to put nuclear and perhaps other hydropower, maybe even natural gas into those standards. So we'll see how that goes.

Monica Trauzzi: Are Democrats going to want to do anything?

Evan Lehmann: Bingaman has said that nuclear is not a renewable energy. He's the chairman of the Energy Committee. We'll see if he's willing to negotiate on that point.

Monica Trauzzi: In the House we've heard murmurs that the Republicans may try to make the House Select Committee on Energy and Independence and Global Warming into more of an oversight committee, over EPA, and that they also hope to tackle some issues that arose last year on climate, in particular, Climate Gate. They want to have hearings on that. So how do you expect Republicans to really shift the tone on the discussion over energy and climate heading into next year?

Evan Lehmann: Yeah, it will be interesting to see how much of that, those threats from Republican House members, was campaign rhetoric and how much of it will be played out. Darrell Issa, who might take over the government oversight committee as a new majority member in the Republican caucus, backtracked a little bit on that last night and seemed to strike a much more measured tone in approaching oversight. Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin has been a little more dynamic in his comments, though I haven't heard anything since the outcome of the elections. So we'll have to see where it goes.

Monica Trauzzi: Sarah, which committees do you think will face the biggest changes and what does that mean for their agenda and the policy we see coming out?

Sarah Abruzzese: Well, obviously, the House is where the majority of changes will occur because the Republicans took over. But additionally, several Democratic committee heads who could be coming back to a minority role, were either defeated or retired. So there's going to be kind of a ... the House definitely lost a lot of long-term knowledge, decades of it with the absence of Obie Oberstar, Skelton and Spratt. They're all gone. And as for the Senate, you know, the question remains whether Lisa Murkowski will return, if she's re-elected.

Monica Trauzzi: And John Boehner is expected to take the position as House Speaker. Nancy Pelosi was often criticized for being too aggressive. What's your take on Boehner's politics and approach to leadership and how might he differ from Pelosi?

Sarah Abruzzese: Well, clearly, he's more ideologically conservative, but reputationally he has a good reputation of working with other people. You know, Reid did a conference call earlier today with reporters in which he said that John Boehner, the one that's able to work and kind of reach across the aisles, appears to have shown up. So whether or not that actually remains to be seen and we'll see.

Monica Trauzzi: Evan, you mentioned the lame duck before. What are your expectations for what we might see in terms of policy and progress?

Evan Lehmann: Well, Reid has a cloture vote filed for electric, some sort of electric and gasification vehicle bill, though it's unclear what exactly will happen. I've heard, you know, I've heard some predictions that it might be a three-hour lame duck to pass a continuing resolution for the budget and then that's it and they go home. You know, there's disagreement though it seems there's wide consensus around the idea that nothing big on the energy front is going to happen, especially in RES.

Monica Trauzzi: And the other big factor here, Sarah, is of course EPA. EPA is set to begin regulating emissions in January. No doubt there will be more attempts in Congress to stop EPA from regulating. With the shift in power, do you think that this becomes a stronger possibility, that they'll actually succeed at stopping EPA?

Sarah Abruzzese: Well, I mean I think it does become a stronger possibility, but whether they'll actually succeed remains to be a question. I mean in the House that's definitely the rhetoric you heard throughout the campaign season. Whether or not they come in and actually challenge the EPA is something that we'll see. I mean every indication is that they will and they'll definitely have the votes in the House. In the Senate it looks like Lisa Murkowski, I think, got 47 votes to kind of question EPA earlier and it looks like there's 10 more votes there now. So it's a question and it could possibly move a little bit farther, but I don't think it'll go all the way.

Evan Lehmann: And if I could chime in on that, Eileen Claussen from the Pew global climate center, has predicted that if a provision blocking EPA's regulation of greenhouse gases is added to a continuing resolution for the budget, for example, that keeps the government moving, Obama might actually sign it she thinks.

Monica Trauzzi: Interesting stuff. That will be interesting to watch. Thank you both for coming on the show.

Sarah Abruzzese: Thank you.

Evan Lehmann: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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