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What a divided Congress could mean for Wyoming’s energy future

Oil drilling rigs in the middle of a wide prairie.
Stephanie Joyce

Several key congressional seats have still not been called in the general election as of Wednesday, Nov. 9, early afternoon, but experts project it is likely Republicans will secure a majority in the House of Representatives. This could potentially have lasting impacts on the future of Wyoming’s energy.

The past two years the Democrat party has controlled the presidency, the House and the Senate, albeit marginally. It led to a shift in U.S. energy policy to account for climate change. For example, pausing oil and gas lease sales on public land for a year and a half on account of climate concerns, and the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which is the largest federal clean energy investment in U.S. history.

These changes were felt in Wyoming, as there has been just one oil and gas public land lease sale in the last two years and several renewable energy projects are in the works.

Having a divided Congress will likely lead to less climate and energy legislation; however, Rob Joyce, an organizer for Wyoming’s Sierra Club Chapter, said change in the energy landscape is inevitable.

“Things like coal have been in decline for over a decade now, regardless of who the president is, or who's in Congress, and things like renewable energy development, wind development, have been increasing in Wyoming,” he said.

Joyce added that combating climate change can still happen on a local level, like supporting small scale wind and solar projects. He said the fact the IRA already passed is huge for climate efforts.

“That money's kind of already allocated,” he said. “Of course, it [a divided congress] might muddy the waters a bit in terms of things getting delayed and held up. But at the end of the day, getting those things passed before the midterms I think was a big priority for a lot of groups. And now that that's out there, we can start working on them.”

The IRA allocated more than $300 billion to be invested in climate and energy reform.

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming (PAW) largely opposed the legislation, as they felt it was designed to eliminate the oil and gas industry. Ryan McConnaughey, the vice president of PAW, said a republican majority in the House is helpful, but there are still concerns.

“But the reality is, Congress over the years has abdicated a lot of its duties to the executive branch,” McConnaughey said. “And so I think what's going to continue to happen, especially with a smaller republican majority in the House, will be that the President's administration will continue to enact anti-oil and gas policies. And then most decisions will be decided in the courts – which is frustrating.”

McConnaughey said issues PAW would like to see Congress address are returning to quarterly oil and gas lease sales – currently they are required to some extent under the IRA, but not tied to a quarterly system – as well as examining the environmental law around methane, clean water and wildlife protections.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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