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Energy & Environment

Will New Congress Rollback Obama Energy Policies?

When it comes to regulating the energy industry, battle lines are already being drawn in Washington as a new Congress is sworn in.



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Screen grab of Jack Girard, president of American Petroleum Institute speaking Monday in Washington.


The new Congress was only hours old when word came from the White House that if members voted to approve the Keystone pipeline project, President Obama would veto it.

The news came as Jack Gerard was giving his State of American Energy speech in Washington. He’s head of the American Petroleum Institute. He said word of the veto was disappointing and didn’t bode well for relations between the president and the new Congress.

At a news conference after his speech, Gerard was asked if the Keystone Pipeline — that would bring Canadian crude to refineries in Houston — still made sense with the world awash in crude that seems to getting cheaper by the day.

“Let it follow the market and let the market determine what should or should not be built. The government shouldn’t get in the middle of the business decision making process,” Gerard said.

And so began what may be months of skirmishes in Washington over the nation’s energy policy. The new Congress features members who were elected after the energy industry spent millions in the past year on TV ads and campaign donations.

“We came up with a figure that might raise some eyebrows. It’s almost three quarters of a billion dollars that (was spent) in 2013 and 2014 helping elect members in this incoming Congress that are favorable to the fossil fuels industry’s agenda,” said Matt Lee-Ashley with the progressive group, the Center for American Progress.

“Those ads are intended to try to set an agenda” by the energy industry that Lee-Ashley said will benefit oil & gas companies at the expense of the environment.    

“Both chambers are controlled by Republicans so I think we expect to see a lot of work by the Congress to rollback what the President has been doing on energy, the environment, climate change,” Lee-Ashley said.

The Petroleum Institute’s Jack Gerard said rolling back new those new stricter limits on pollution from big industry is needed. In his speech in Washington, he called it a misguided energy policy that was an example of “the ever-increasing environmental regulations that do little or nothing to advance public health.”

Gerard said that the drilling industry was already using new technology to curb methane gas leaks from drilling operations without being forced to by the government. And overall, he touted the environmental benefits of the boom in natural gas production because of fracking.

“The fact is, our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions are near 20 year lows thanks in large part to the significant growth in the use of north American produced natural gas,” said in his speech.   

Besides fewer environmental regulations, the industry will also be pushing Congress to find ways to sell American-produced oil and gas to foreign countries. The industry wants the decades-old ban on exporting crude oil lifted and wants approval for natural gas exporting facilities along the coast to be fast-tracked. The debate over that will involve whether exporting American-produced oil and gas will increase the prices we pay for it here in the states.

The petroleum industry says the new Congress has an unprecedented opportunity to further an energy renaissance in this country that no one saw coming a decade ago.

Will the industry have a better chance with Republicans in control of both houses? Matt Lee-Ashley with the Center for American Progress says at least when it comes to environmental regulation, maybe not.

“By and large people don’t like to see those protections rolled back. And that’s what is on the table right now. I think Congress is going to have a hard time overriding bedrock environmental laws,” Lee-Ashley told News 88.7.

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