Can the New Congress Pass a Bipartisan Energy Bill?

The 111th Congress failed to pass a climate and energy bill, despite Democrats controlling both the House and the Senate. So what are the legislation’s prospects with the class of 2012? Two experts weigh in.

Monica Trauzzi, of E&ETV’s OnPoint program, asked Dave Hoppe, president of Quinn Gillespie & Associates and a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), and Kevin Kayes, a director at QGA and former chief counsel to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), to share their thoughts.
From OnPoint
Monica Trauzzi: Dave, there's so much speculation about what this new Congress will be able to do on energy and environment policy, especially since it shifted so far to the right now. Is bipartisanship on energy possible with this new makeup?
David Hoppe: I think it is, but I think where you have to look is in terms of energy production. I don't think there will be a lot of subsidies for energy production, but I think in terms of letting, particularly the shale oil and to the degree that there could be market money raised to do things in the green energy spectrum, I think you'll see those things go forward. They tried to do a bill on the House side that went a little bit farther afield in terms of oil pollution. If they pull that back and just do something dealing with oil pollution in the Gulf and offshore drilling, I think they can get something there. I think offshore drilling also is an area where they might be able to get it. And, oddly enough, I think you'll see some things that the administration may not be too happy about as bipartisan items, and that is reining back the EPA. I think there is certainly the votes in the House to do that, and I think if you look in the Senate, there's over 50 votes in the Senate to pursue the type of policy that Senator Rockefeller has set out in a bill to delay the EPA regulations on carbon. So for that reason, I think that there's a number of areas where you can find it, but there may be some that the administration is excited about and some they're less excited about.
Trauzzi: I didn't hear you mention a renewable electricity standard. Is that something you think we could see happen?
Hoppe: I don't think so.
Trauzzi: No?
Hoppe: I just think you've got regional issues there, and if you look at the House of Representatives, where most of the new members are from, they're from this -- many of them from the South. And RES was a particular problem in the Southern region, and in some Southern states there really aren't alternatives, or at least that's what the members have said, and, in fact, when there were Democrats in those seats, they said that. Now that there are Republicans in those seats, I expect you'll hear the same things from them. So I don't believe that RES is going to be one of the leading items of a bipartisan bill that will move very far next year. In fact, I would be surprised if the House took up an RES bill at all.
Trauzzi: Wow, Kevin, your take on that.
Kevin Kayes: I don't disagree with Dave. I have a little different take, though. I think two significant things have happened in the last couple of months. One was there was a huge change, an election where the Republicans took over from the House. And from an energy standpoint, I think Murkowski looks like she's going to win, Senator Murkowski, her election. And she said she intends -- she expects to be ranking member on that committee. And she also said in a recent interview that she'd like to start from the bill that they reported on a bipartisan basis last Congress. So, to me, she's signaling to everybody that she wants to do a bill and she wants to work in a bipartisan way. And I think it's in the interests of both Republicans -- I mean, I think the message folks sent in this election was they want to see Washington get some things done. So I think it's in the interest of both Republicans who have taken over the House and the White House to try to make that happen. And I think what you're going to see going forward is the Republicans are going to pull energy policy to the right. The administration, through regulatory actions, is going to pull it to the left. And you're going to have a Senate that's sort of going to become, again, the fulcrum on policy. And I think what you're going to see -- I think if both parties are smart, what you're going to see are people compromise on some of these major issues so they can get some legislation passed. And it's not going to be perfect. It's not going to be everything the White House wants, and it's not going to be -- it's probably going to be farther to the left than what House Republicans want. But I think we're in a political climate where it's in everybody's interest to sort of work together and get something done.
Trauzzi: And is there a climate to pass some kind of legislation that would stop EPA from regulating emissions?
Kayes: Well, I don't know. That's a difficult question. I think the first question is, how hard does the administration push? I think this is almost like the dog that caught the car. I think they pushed hard last Congress from a regulatory standpoint to create some pressure on the Congress. And I don't think it worked particularly well. I think it just complicated the process in the Senate. So I think the first question is, does the administration push and actually do a final reg? My take is, that's probably not great politics for Democrats. I think what you want in this area right now -- because there's so much movement and there's so much uncertainty, and what we're trying to do really is create some new industries -- I think you want some consensus, and I don't think you want to be doing it by regulatory action. That, quite frankly, it's not easy. The last time the Republicans controlled the House and the Senate, they created a regulatory review process that's not really used very often, and it's not that effective. But what it does is, it gets you in quick vote in the House and Senate -- you know, that can be vetoed by the president, but it's a strong statement. And what you're able to do with a vote like that is sort of create wedge issues. And I just think this area is too important to do that. And I really would like to see the administration and Congress try to reach some kind of consensus on an emissions policy.
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