October 26, 2020

Election Preview: Congressional Turnover and Its Impact on the Energy Sector

Casie Daugherty

With under two weeks to go until Election Day, Prime Policy Group has partnered with our sister companies to give our clients a robust look at the election from multiple viewpoints. As part of our efforts, we will examine a host of congressional races heading into November 3, focusing not just on competitive races but also on how the results of the election, as well as retirements and previous primary defeats, will change the makeup of Congress and how the House and Senate operate. This is the third in our series.

House of Representatives

While the House is likely to stay to stay in Democratic hands, and Republican and Democratic leadership is unlikely to change much, the the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, with a jurisdiction that includes energy and environmental issues, will undergo noticeable changes, losing members who have served on the committee for decades. This committee is a coveted assignment, at least in part because of its vast jurisdiction and increased fundraising profile. So broad, in fact, that longtime former committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI), when once asked to explain the committee’s jurisdiction, famously pointed to a map of the Earth and pronounced “if it moves it’s energy, and if it doesn’t it’s commerce.” Members from across the political spectrum will be enthusiastically vying to fill spots vacated by Democrats and Republicans.

While Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr., (NJ) will remain at the helm for Democrats, they will lose long-time member Rep. Eliot Engel (NY), who was defeated in his primary in July. Democrats will also be forced to replace Rep. Ben Ray Luján (NM), who will likely be the next Senator from New Mexico; David Loebsack (IA), who is retiring; and Joseph P. Kennedy III (MA), who lost his primary challenge against Sen. Ed Markey. Names like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), one of the authors of the Green New Deal, and Rep. Sean Casten (IL), a clean energy entrepreneur before joining Congress, have publicly been floated as possible replacements. The committee is likely to attempt to maintain its current state breakdown; for example, Engel would be replaced by another member from New York and Kennedy’s departure would open a slot for a member from Massachusetts. The likeliest of new members on the Democratic side include Reps. Anthony Delgado (NY-19), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Lizzie Fletcher (TX-7), Xochitl Torres Small (NM-2); Angie Craig (MN-2); and Lori Trahan (MA-3) – assuming these members win reelection.

On the Republican side, the committee is losing at least two of its top three members and, depending on how the election goes, possibly all three. Ranking Member Greg Walden (OR) announced in October 2019 that he would not seek reelection, followed shortly by a similar announcement from Rep. John Shimkus (IL), the third most senior Republican member of the committee and Ranking Member of the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee. Additionally, former E&C Committee Chairman Fred Upton (MI) is in a tight reelection race, and there is a possibility he loses his seat for the 117th Congress. Even if Upton is re-elected, Energy and Commerce will be looking for a new Republican Ranking Member, since he is term-limited by Republican caucus rules from taking the mantle again.

Rep. Michael Burgess (TX-26) seems the most likely candidate to lead the Republican side of the committee. Burgess, who has served for nine terms, will be the most senior member of the committee eligible. During Republicans’ attempts to repeal Obamacare in the 115th Congress, Burgess, a physician, led the committee’s Health Subcommittee, helping to burnish his credentials on one of Energy and Commerce’s most high-profile issues. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who previously served as Chair of the House Republican Conference and the highest-ranking Republican woman, will also be in the running to take Ranking seat. As Republicans have limited numbers of women serving in the highest Congressional ranks, they may see elevating McMorris Rodgers as a way to help address their gender imbalance.

Four other Republicans on the committee – Reps. Greg Gianforte (MT), Susan Brooks (IN), Bill Flores (TX) and Pete Olson (TX) – will not be back in Congress next year, due either to retirement or running for higher office. Republicans on the committee in the next Congress will likely use their posts to block Democratic priorities for healthcare, energy, and the environment with fights on these issues anticipated to garner considerable public attention, making an assignment on the committee even more attractive.

Senate

With control of the Senate still very much up in the air, and perhaps remaining there until January when potential run-offs in the Georgia Senate races are complete, examining the landscape in that chamber is a little more difficult.

One thing is certain, however, and that is Republicans will have a new head on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as current Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (AK) is term-limited by her Party from serving either as Chair or Ranking Member. Murkowski has served as the leading Republican on the committee since 2009. There is no doubt Murkowski has used her seat at the top of the Senate Energy Committee to skillfully push for priorities for her native Alaska and achieved perhaps her top priority – the ability to drill in ANWR – when it was included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017.

Sen. John Barrasso (WY) is expected to replace Sen. Murkowski on the Energy Committee, leaving his post as the Chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) to do so.

Notably, Sen. Murkowski’s bipartisan bill with Energy Committee Ranking Member Joe Manchin (WV) fell apart last spring, and Manchin pointed to Barrasso’s opposition to a provision and the EPW’s “inability to reach consensus” as the main reason for the bill’s demise. If Vice President Biden wins the race for the White House, regardless of whether or not the Senate flips, climate change legislation is likely to be a top priority for Democrats and Senate Republicans are unlikely to many of the solutions proposed by their Democratic counterparts.

The Democrat’s leader on the committee, Sen. Manchin, is unlikely to change. Whether he remains as Ranking Member or takes the gavel if Democrats win the Senate, some Democrats’ desire for robust climate change legislation  will have to gain support from this coal-state member. Manchin is famous for ‘taking a gun’ to Democrats’ cap and trade bill in a 2010 campaign ad, though he has emphasized his support for an “all of the above” energy policy, acknowledged the need to address the carbon challenge, and staunchly promoted energy innovation.

If Sen. Barrasso takes the helm of the Energy Committee as expected, another Mountaineer, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (WV) would be in line to take the gavel of the Environment and Public Works Committee. The committee has broad jurisdiction over energy and sustainability issues as well as transportation matters that run the gamut from the Army Corps of Engineers to the Environmental Protection Agency. Currently, Capito serves as the Chairwoman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, where she was instrumental in crafting a bipartisan transportation reauthorization bill in 2019. Capito has made the regulation of PFAS in drinking water a priority in recent years, an issue she has worked on closely with EPW Democratic Ranking Member Tom Carper (DE). Capito and Carper have a good working relationship, though clearly different policy priorities, which would likely continue into 2021.

Energy and environmental policy issues are expected to be highly contentious in the 117th Congress. Understanding the leadership and committee turnover for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as the Senate Committees on Energy and Natural Resources and Environment and Public Works, will help companies determine how they should plan for the next two years.


Casie Daugherty
Casie leads the firm’s trade practice, where she covers client needs in relation to Free Trade Agreements, Section 301, Section 232, NAFTA/USMCA, CFIUS, and other trade-related action