November 09, 2010

In This Issue


The sizable Republican majority in the House means that any attempts to put a price on carbon are off the table. Exactly how the new majority will now approach its climate and energy agenda remains to be seen.

Presumptive Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) may have already laid out the blueprints for a GOP energy bill with the “American Energy Act.” That legislation calls for ramping up nuclear energy and offshore drilling as well as creating incentives for renewable energy.

But some observers, such as Manik Roy, vice president for federal government outreach at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said he doubts any comprehensive energy bill can move in the next Congress, given that most tea party members campaigned on a fiscal conservative platform against costly legislative proposals. It’s speculated that the Republican path forward will be either incremental or promoted in terms of creating economic growth for the country.

Committees under GOP leadership

Under Boehner, committee leaders in the lower chamber are also expected to press the Obama Administration on scientific understanding of climate change and challenge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases.

Expected committee chairs Darrell Issa (R-CA) of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) of the Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee may launch investigations into events that they claim cast doubt on climate science.  However, some analysts believe the latter committee will be slashed completely or fundamentally altered under the GOP. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), a top contender to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee, publicly called for scrapping the global warming committee in The Washington Times last month. Rep. Sensenbrenner alternatively has written an op-ed in the Roll Call newspaper urging Republican leaders to retain the committee, citing its value as a platform to provide for increased oversight over the Environmental Protection Agency.

Both Upton and the other front-runner to Chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), have also promised intensive oversight of EPA. Barton has also been critical of the administration’s efforts to shutdown the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, NV. Rep. Upton has described government regulations on greenhouse gases, coal ash and boilers as “smothering” the economy. Current Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) is expected to become the committee’s Ranking Member.

Precedent holds that netting the chairman spot hinges on a blend of popularity and seniority. Although Barton claims seniority, he also would need a waiver to be allowed to take the gavel, having already served as the committee’s lead Republican for six years. Barton also angered party leadership this past year when he apologized to BP PLC for what he called the Obama administration’s “shakedown” of the company after the Deepwater Horizon Gulf spill.

Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee will seek to expand oil and gas drilling next Congress and fight the Obama Administration’s attempts to regulate energy production, current Ranking Member Doc Hastings (R-WA) has said. Hastings, an eight-term GOP incumbent, also confirmed that he wants to lead the Natural Resources Committee Current Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) is expected to serve as Ranking Member for the committee.

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), expected to run the Agriculture Committee, has said he wants to ramp up oversight over the Environmental Protection Agency. Many farm policy experts do not expect the party turnover to result in deep cuts to farm subsidies as the policy differences between members of the committee generally tend to be more regional than partisan. Current Chairman Colin Peterson (D-MN) is expected to serve as Ranking Member.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) is in line to run the Science and Technology Committee. It is not clear, however, if Republican leaders will give him that privilege – Hall is 87 years old and only became a Republican six years ago. Next in line would be Rep. Sensenbrenner (who chaired this committee in the past), a vocal climate skeptic with a demonstrated interest in a committee chairmanship. With current Science and Tech. Chairman Bart Gordon’s retirement, Rep. Jerry Costello was next line to become Ranking Member.

However, Costello expressed disinterest in the post in favor of remaining the lead Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation, leaving the ranking position open to the next most senior members, which include Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), Lynn Woolsey (CA), David Wu (OR) and Brad Miller (NC). Like Costello, Reps. Johnson and Woolsey currently serve as subcommittee chairs on outside committees, positions they would likely have to give up if they sought the ranking slot. Reps. Wu and Miller currently serve as Science and Technology subcommittee chairmen, Wu on the Technology and Innovation Subcommittee while Miller currently leads the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee.


According to a November 3 New York Times story, the recent Republican victory in the House of Representatives could mean significantly less funding for federally funded research.  The GOP’s Pledge to America calls for cutting non-defense discretionary spending to 2008 levels.  An analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science shows that would mean a loss of $1 billion for the National Science Foundation (about 19 percent of its budget), for example.  However, the GOP document is not clear on which programs would be on the chopping block.  Even before the election, however, the prospects for strong increases for federal research were dimming as the Obama Administration had already called on all agencies to plan on reduced budgets for fiscal year 2012.  Meanwhile, the budget for the current fiscal year of 2011 (underway since October 1, 2010) is still pending for the foreseeable future as the federal government continues to operate at last year’s budget levels.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to be the target of congressional attacks once the Republicans take control of the House and gain several seats in the Democratic-controlled Senate. For Congressional Republicans, the first order of business could be legislation to stop EPA from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Supporters of measures to block EPA’s climate regulations say it is a foregone conclusion that the Republican-controlled House will pass such a bill during the next session. And in the Senate, where Democrats have spent the past two years bemoaning the rule requiring 60 votes to defeat a filibuster, that threshold appears to be the only thing that could stop such a measure from passing.

After the election, there now appear to be at least 57 votes in the Senate for a measure to delay the agency’s climate rules, 10 more than a similar measure had in June proposed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to strip EPA of the authority to regulate greenhouse gases. That number includes the entire bloc of 47 Republican senators and at least nine Democrats who have already pledged their support for one or more proposal: Sens. Jay Rockefeller (WV), Mary Landrieu (LA), Ben Nelson (NE), Mark Pryor (AR), Kent Conrad (ND), Tim Johnson (SD), Claire McCaskill (MO) and Jim Webb (VA) have all voted or cosponsored legislation to limit EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Democratic Senator-elect Joe Manchin (WV) aired a commercial in which he fired a rifle at the House-passed cap-and-trade bill.

It remains to be seen what form a measure to block EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations would take. After the defeat of the Murkowski resolution, EPA critics shifted their attention to a bill from Sen. Rockefeller that would force the agency to wait two years before controlling greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources such as power plants, refineries or factories. That proposal would have spared regulations on cars and light-duty trucks, which have been supported by the auto industry.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has promised the Rockefeller bill a vote during this fall’s lame-duck session, but because Democratic leadership has kept similar proposals from reaching the House floor, the campaign to block EPA would likely need to restart in the next congressional session.In the Senate, where the Democrats would decide whether to schedule a vote on a bill, a measure to block or delay EPA’s rules could be tacked onto almost anything, including must-pass appropriations to keep the federal government running.

The White House has vowed to veto any effort to hamstring EPA’s regulatory authority. However, 2012 presidential election considerations will likely make the Administration more sensitive to the needs of coal-dependent states like Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, all of which Obama won in 2008.

Other rules under pressure

Environmental groups are worried that the shift in Congress could have an impact beyond climate change, and could also threaten the Environmental Protection Agency’s new standards for smog, industrial boilers and coal ash. While such legislation would face an uphill battle passing the two chambers, the House’s new Republican leadership will still likely press EPA officials to justify the costly rules.

The dynamic in Congress will depend on the broader strategy chosen by Republican leadership. Environmental groups contend the party would be wise to acknowledge that voters rejected candidates that were most vocal in their criticism of climate science and environmental regulations. Many analysts have suggested that the Republicans would have won the Senate had they not nominated tea party favorites such as  Sharron Angle in Nevada, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Ken Buck in Colorado.

Opportunities remain for bipartisanship

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (KY) recently stated he expects energy policy to be an area where his party and Democrats can work together to pass meaningful legislation in the next Congress. In echoing earlier comments made by President Obama and Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), McConnell said plug-in electric vehicles, nuclear power and “clean coal” technology were areas where Democrats and Republicans were in agreement on energy policy. Bingaman prides himself on passing bills with GOP support, including a 2009 committee measure that included a renewable electricity standard and increased offshore oil drilling.


California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer won her re-election bid and will hold on to her prominent chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee. The three-term senator ran on a platform of clean energy, environmental protection and civil rights, besting challenger Carly Fiorina, a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co. who poured more than $5.5 million of her own money into the race.

One particular ad during that campaign, which portrayed Boxer as a blimp hovering over the country, attacked the senator for calling climate change a national security issue. Fiorina also criticized Boxer for meeting with President Obama to discuss cap-and-trade legislation instead of working on cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Senate’s diminished majority, coupled with a feisty relationship between EPW Chairwoman Boxer and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK), make it unlikely that comprehensive climate change legislation will move through her committee.  Mary Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, which is in charge of implementing California’s first-in-the-nation cap-and-trade plan, said Boxer’s leadership would nonetheless be crucial in a defensive strategy against efforts to roll back existing policies intended to protect the environment.


The GOP net gains in at least nine states throughout the country (as of Nov. 8cast serious doubts about whether states will move forward with cap-and-trade programs and related  efforts to mitigate climate change, according to analysts.

The fate of state cap-and-trade programs, renewable energy programs and coal plant permits rests with the incoming group of governors. For many environmentalists, the ascension of climate skeptics to state leadership at a time when federal climate legislation is stalled on Capitol Hill suggests greenhouse gas emissions will continue to increase across the country. According to Americans for Prosperity, an oil business group, several gubernatorial candidates signed a “no climate tax” pledge including GOP gubernatorial victors in the states of Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin. Florida Governor-elect Rick Scott stated he has “not been convinced” of the existence of global warming despite a general consensus among scientists that human activities are causing global climatic change. 

However, there was also support for renewable power and emissions-cutting programs among many GOP candidates. Howard Learner of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, noted that governors-elect moving from the campaign to governing stage may also “evolve” their thinking on some emissions-cutting programs. As an example, he said governors in the Midwest will be faced with supporting high-speed rail programs or returning millions of dollars of federal grants to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Currently, the nation’s only operating cap-and-trade system, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), is undergoing a review that could determine the toughness of its emissions targets in the years ahead. The program, stretching from Maine to Maryland, has come under fire for establishing a weak emissions cap that failed to change business behavior. Supporters praise it as a successful model for capping emissions that will be a leading force in influencing climate policy.

The victories of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a backer of the initiative, and Andrew Cuomo in New York, both progressive Democrats, indicate the program will remain intact and perhaps be strengthened, analysts said. Additionally, Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut hold the majority of the initiative’s carbon allowances, so what happens with the rest of New England holds less significance, said Stacy VanDeveer, a professor at the University of New Hampshire.

The fates of two other proposed cap-and-trade programs, the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord and the Western Climate Initiative, are less certain. Both are still in the planning stage in states where the stances of incoming governors are generally either unknown or oppositional. – ClimateWire


Among the biggest winners in Canada after the U.S. midterm Congressional elections are Alberta’s oil producers, which have been criticized by many Democrats for their “dirty oil.” Republicans, who will control the U.S. House of Representatives in January will likely emphasize the need to rely less on oil from the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

Canada also faces less pressure to pass its own climate legislation now that the chances for that happening in the United States are tabled for the foreseeable future. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government had been working in step with the Obama Administration before the legislation failed to reach a vote in the U.S. Senate. The loss helped pave the way for Harper to successfully delay dealing with climate legislation in Canada.

The Republican takeover of the House also marks the end of Henry Waxman’s chairmanship of the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee. Waxman had championed tough legislation that would have penalized crude from oil sands. He also opposed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s endorsement of the Keystone XL pipeline that would link Alberta oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

For more information on the Canadian oil sands controversy, see the “CANADA” article in the Sept. 30 edition of ESA’s Policy News at


California voters approved a measure on Election Day that will tighten how the state constitution defines taxes and regulatory fees.

Proposition 26 effectively expands the definition of a state tax, requiring a two-thirds vote for any new surcharge or levy, even if the money is earmarked for a specific purpose. Its passage could also empower the Republican minority in the state legislature and make it more difficult for California to balance its budget through alcohol, tobacco and other companies that have been targets of legislative fees for decades. The state’s business community had been in opposition to these fees for years.

The measure has been called the “evil twin” of Proposition 23 by environmental activists who fear it would inhibit the state’s ability to regulate carbon emissions. Prop. 23, which was voted down, would have delayed the state’s climate law, A.B. 32, until unemployment dropped to 5.5 percent for a full year.

An analysis released last week by the law school at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) , found that Prop. 26 could “erect significant barriers” to many environmental programs in California, including A.B. 32 and fundamentally hinder the state’s ability to assess environmental fees on polluters of all kinds. This contradicts claims by the “Yes on 26” campaign that the measure would simply make it more difficult to increase taxes.

Lawyers from UCLA’s Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment and Evan Frankel Environmental Law and Policy Program contend Prop. 26 would affect a number of current laws, among them a green chemistry initiative, two statutes blocking chemical products in landfills and longstanding rules on lead.

Under current law, increasing taxes requires a two-thirds vote by the state legislature. Partisan gridlock has led the Democratic –controlled legislature to pass a variety of fees, which require a simple majority vote. A fee is a levy that is used for a specific purpose, such as fees on chemical pesticides that go toward funding the state’s pesticide control agency. A tax may be used for the state’s general operating costs, to pay for public education, prisons and health services.

Prop. 26 had received multimillion-dollar contributions from the California Chamber of Commerce, Chevron Corp., Philip Morris USA Inc. and Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc.

Click here to read the UCLA report:

Sources: Associated Press, ClimateWire, Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, The Hill, LA Times, The New York Times, POLITICO, the Toronto Star, The Washington Post