Will A Republican Senate Help Wyoming Energy Companies? Maybe

Oct 24, 2014

What would the nation’s energy policy look like if Republicans capture the Senate this November? Matt Laslo caught up with Wyoming lawmakers and energy analysts to find out the potential impact on the state’s energy sector if the GOP gains control of the upper chamber.

In the 2008 Election the GOP line was "drill, baby drill!" This year, the Republican mantra is more like 'frack baby frack!' and 'ship, baby ship!' House Republicans used their last week in Washington before the election to make their final case on energy policy. They voted to streamline the permitting process for energy companies and to keep the EPA out of the nation’s natural gas boom by giving states the final say on fracking regulations. Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis says the GOP was sending a message to voters.

“So to leave on that note allows us to go out and talk to our constituents and the constituents of other members who are in difficult races about what our priorities are and how we would address them if we were in the majority.”

Democrats, like Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly, say the GOP rhetoric on energy policy outpaces reality.

“Facts are stubborn things – under President Obama the gains managing production in the United States are exponential. We are in a glide path to becoming the world’s largest energy producer surpassing Saudi Arabia. We are now talking about exporting energy products.”

Still, while energy bills fly through the Republican-controlled House, it’s a different story in the Democratically-controlled Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid has blocked most efforts to bring up GOP energy bills, like one offered by Wyoming Senator John Barrasso to expand U.S. energy exports. 

“I have legislation that I have Republican and Democratic cosponsors but Harry Reid is even blocking those votes. I think that it’s important for Wyoming and the country to go ahead with these things and I am trying to get votes from the Senate.”  

Barrasso says at the very least, if Republicans win back the Senate, proposals to help the oil and gas industry will come to the floor. 

“If the Republicans are in the majority we will have votes on these things and I believe they will pass with over 60 votes with bipartisan support and then the president will have to decide whether he is going to sign or veto.”

While the White House and congressional Democrats accuse Republicans of being obstructionists for blocking most every part of the president’s agenda, Congresswoman Lummis says that could change if the GOP is running both chambers of Congress. 

“Then he would look like an obstructionist.” 

Besides making President Obama look like he’s blocking the popular will of the American people, what could Republicans do to change energy policy with a Democrat in the White House? One way is through so-called policy riders. That’s when lawmakers load up bills to fund the government with policy positions in order to put the president in a difficult position: either accept a policy he opposes or veto government funding. Nick Loris, a senior policy analyst with the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, says directing the nation’s energy policy through spending bills is a good strategy if the GOP captures the Senate.

“Many of these riders may stop the EPA from its excessive and burdensome regulations.”

If Republicans have both chambers of Congress they’d control all the committees on Capitol Hill, which means it’d be easy for them to tuck new rules to, say, limit the EPA into must pass bills to fund the government. Julian Boggs, a global warming advocate at Environment America, says Democrats would have to be on guard.

“The thing is we know exactly what Senator McConnell’s and Speaker Boehner’s game plan is. They haven’t made a secret of it and they’ve been doing this in the House of Representatives and trying to do it in the Senate for quite some time now. We’ve seen the most anti-environmental Congress.”

President Obama would likely veto many of those bills and that would set off a battle with Republicans. Even if the president won those fights, Loris says Republicans would be making important points.

“Now, whether they could actually get signed into law, you know, that’s a whole ‘nother story. But at the same time I think fighting the EPA and not letting these unelected officials go down this regulatory path without any say from our elected officials is something our Congress doesn’t want to see.”

While Republicans in the House have aggressively used those policy riders to try and direct the nation’s energy policy, Congresswoman Lummis says she’s hoping a Republican Senate would force the president to take the GOP more seriously.

“But I would be hopeful rather than using that mechanism we can actually have productive discussion where they're not lobbying rules our way and we aren't lobbying riders back at them. It would be nice if we could just talk to each other.” 

The 20-16 presidential contest would be the backdrop of the battle, which makes the stakes even higher for both parties in Washington. Lummis says it’s important for her party to signal to voters they’re pro energy. 

“So that it the important thing. I see these bills going to Harry Reid's desk to die, but we could pass these very same bills in January and they would get to the President's desk if we had the Senate. That's the message we would like to send.”

One thing is clear, the heated debate over the nation’s energy policy isn’t cooling down any time soon.