A Power Sector Guide to the Midterm Elections

The Republicans seized full control of Congress on Tuesday, bagging the six seats necessary to snatch the Senate away from the Democrats—and leaving several Obama administration energy-related initiatives in a fog. 

With most election results in, Republicans have control of at least 52 Senate seats, snaring key seats in Iowa, North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas, South Dakota, Montana, and West Virginia. A runoff will be needed in December to decide the Louisiana race, while Virginia and Alaska still remain in play as of Wednesday morning. In the House, the GOP controls at least 242 seats, reportedly its largest majority since World War II.

On the state front, Republicans also saw gubernatorial victories in previously reliable Democratic states, including in Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

While more analysis is pouring in, the elections’ outcomes are certain to affect the direction of key energy issues across the nation during the new 114th Congress.

The Lame Duck Session

Congress is in recess after the Nov. 4 election, but both the House and Senate return Nov. 12 for a lame duck session.

The Climate Agenda

With a Republican stronghold on the Senate, analysts foresee more legislation attacking the Obama administration’s carbon pollution rules for existing power plants.

As the Brookings Institute’s Philip Wallach notes, the Clean Power Plan’s treatment on the campaign trail, supported by progressive Democrats in safe seats but dismissed by Democrats in contested seats, signals bad news for its backers. “Such a configuration makes the Clean Power Plan’s future entirely dependent on progressive political fortunes—hardly a recipe for success for a policy that needs a decade and a half to develop and deliver its headline results,” he writes.

The results may mean that more legislation is forthcoming too, that challenges the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) authority on a number of Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act issues. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is now the Senate minority leader, has repeatedly said he would rein in the EPA’s proposals to regulate pollution from coal-fired power plants. Climate change skeptic, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), meanwhile, is poised to lead the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Natural Gas Exports

Analysts widely agree that exporting the nation’s natural gas will be a major focus in 2015—with bipartisan support. With a Republican stronghold on the Senate, moreover, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will likely become the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Murkowski has stated she intends to work to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Yucca Mountain

With Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) no longer the majority leader, opposition to Yucca Mountain won’t be as pronounced. Developments can be expected, especially in light of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s recent finding that the Energy Department’s chosen permanent nuclear waste repository will meet regulatory requirements when permanently closed.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)


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