US Energy Policy Taking Dramatic Shift to the Right

on December 04, 2014 at 2:00 PM

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The ensuing Republican majority in both Houses of Congress following the 2014 Mid-Term election leaves President Obama in a precarious position regarding healthcare reform, foreign policy and economic recovery. But it is U.S. energy policy that could have the most tangible long-term effect on American society. Since securing re-election in 2012, Obama has taken significant strides in implementing reform to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions. Republicans will now target the 2016 presidential election as a means of shifting U.S. energy policy firmly to the right. As oil prices return to a volatile status, the potential for partisan conflict will only increase over the direction of key policy decisions.

The Clean Air Act and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan signal a clear intent from the Administration to curb fossil fuel industrial emissions and develop alternative forms of energy for the American economy outside of oil and gas development. These polices have been buttressed by the recent US-China bilateral agreement that could foster policies to reduce emissions by the world’s two biggest polluters. The importance the Administration has placed on the recent IPCC report and the 2015 UN Climate Conference in Paris with the goal of cutting world carbon emissions by 2030 signals the priority given to climate change.

However, the biggest obstacle to making these polices a reality will come in the form of a familiar foe for a Democratic president, a Republican majority in Congress. The landslide victory for the Republicans in key battleground states such as Iowa, Virginia and Colorado will offer significant obstacles on current U.S. energy policy. The selection of Mitch McConnell (R- Kentucky) to Senate Majority leader, Jim Inhofe (R – Oklahoma), an outspoken climate change skeptic as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Ted Cruz (R- Texas) and Ron Johnson (S –Wisconsin) to committee chair positions will put Pres. Obama’s climate change polices under severe pressure. Obama has already stated he intends to work with these high-ranking Republicans to foster bi-partisan relations. However, they will undoubtedly strive to undermine his policies and serve the interests of their respective fossil fuel-driven state economies.

Despite the recent defeat of the bill over construction of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, Republicans will repeatedly pursue the issue in both houses forcing the Administration to use an executive veto if the bill is eventually passed. The pipeline has become a key political issue in battleground states such as Louisiana where the Senate election will take place this Saturday. Obama has repeatedly stalled on a decision regarding the pipeline, despite mounting pressure from the oil and gas lobby. The Administration has already stated they will not buckle to Republican demands over the pipeline and any reversed decision on this policy will weaken their credibility and Obama’s legacy after 2016.

The Administration and the Democrats will have to rely on executive orders and filibusters to ensure these climate change policies will be implemented under great duress following Republican victory. The emergence of a growing, green economy with the aid of federal grants and the widespread acceptance of Republicans that climate change has become a prioritized political issue will allow the Administration some crucial leverage. However, the influence of the oil and gas lobby and their intertwined interests with key Republican politicians will result in resurgent right-wing rhetoric filtering into U.S. energy policy, particularly in relation to fossil fueled power plants and the role of the EPA. The administration could also face significant domestic pressures from Republican hawks in concluding a satisfying deal over Iranian nuclear proliferation.

The domestic implications notwithstanding, U.S. international prestige regarding climate change is severely under threat now. Despite the bilateral agreement with China, the executive will struggle to implement any perceived radical polices through the House and the restructured committees will surely use their new-found power to wield a conservative reign over green agencies – both public and private. The wave of conservatism in the United States and the intense opposition for Obama’s climate change policies from fossil fuel states will impact directly on U.S. carbon reductions, weakening U.S. credibility at the U.N. Climate Change conference in 2015. The power of the oil and gas lobby now faces no credible opposition, particularly considering the number of Democrats supporting shale development. Obama’s legacy could be tarnished by the end of his administration, leaving the U.S. lagging behind the world in preventing further climate change.