Energy policy was not a major topic of the presidential campaigns, but President-elect Donald Trump’s positions represent a radical change from current energy policy. However, campaign statements often soften when the candidate is in office, and Trump’s pledges to grow fossil fuel production will contend with global supply and demand pressures, and strong environmental opposition. With the smaller federal government envisioned by Trump, it is possible that more energy decisions – especially about regulation and infrastructure — will be made locally.
Naturally, having both houses of Congress and the White House controlled by the Republican Party should ease passage of conservative legislation. However, issues such as repealing the Affordable Care Act will occupy Congress before they consider legislation relaxing energy regulation or expediting energy infrastructure. Smaller Republican majorities and internal party disagreements will also limit congressional accomplishments.
However, Washington, D.C. first has to make it through the lame-duck congressional session and the presidential transition.
Congress must decide about funding the government after the current continuing resolution (CR) ends on Dec. 9. Possible decisions include another CR that funds the government to continue doing the same things as last year. However, Congress-watchers expected that the half-finished appropriation bills would be wrapped into a single, omnibus appropriation bill and passed in December. Another possibility is that fiscal conservatives would push for a government shutdown in support of smaller appropriations.
Many of the investment tax credits that had to be renewed each year were made permanent or multi-year in 2015. But a few, including the credit for energy efficiency improvements to homes, are likely to come up for a vote at the end of 2016. In addition, congressional leaders promised to consider a water infrastructure bill that assists Flint, Mich., this year.
A change in administration opens about 4,000 federal jobs to presidential appointments. Of these, about 1,100 – including the president’s cabinet – require Senate confirmation. Cabinet appointments should clear the Senate within a few days of the inauguration. Other appointments could take a year or longer. These appointments are a major focus of the transition team.
The energy lead is Mike Catanzaro, who was an adviser to former House Speaker John Boehner and presidential candidates Mitt Romney and George W. Bush. Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute heads the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). David Bernhardt, who worked at the Department of the Interior under President George W. Bush, is leading the transition team for Interior. Transition teams welcome nominations, resumes and policy ideas.
Trump’s Energy Pledges
President-elect Trump’s stated energy plan (at least at one point) would cut regulations and restrictions on fossil fuels and energy infrastructure, eliminate the EPA and cancel U.S. participation in the Paris climate accord.
Eliminating the EPA is unlikely, but a smaller EPA and fewer new regulations seem probable. It is unclear what actions a President Trump would take on the Paris accord. The formal withdrawal process takes four years. Withholding funds required to meet the U.S. commitment may be a faster option that a Republican Congress would support.
The Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) 2017-22 leasing plan is scheduled to be released this year. The Beaufort and Chukchi Sea areas could be removed from the final version, contrary to Alaskans’ support for Arctic development. In addition, environmental groups want President Obama to use the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to permanently withdraw the Atlantic offshore from energy drilling.
President-elect Trump has pledged to open all the OCS to leasing. His administration could revise the OCS leasing plan, although that is a slow process.
Having one or more Trump-nominated justices on the Supreme Court will be significant for energy policy. Next year, the Clean Power Plan is likely to come before the Court. Readers might recall that just days before Justice Scalia’s death, the Court’s conservative majority issued a stay, halting implementation of the Plan while legal challenges are pending. Other environmental regulations such as the Bureau of Land Management hydraulic fracturing regulations may reach the Court — the June decision by the U.S. District Court for Wyoming to strike down the rule is in appeal.
The 115th Congress
The Senate Republican majority has dropped by three to 51, and the House Republican majority is down from 247 to 239 or 240 (one Louisiana seat will be chosen by a Dec. 10 run-off). These changes should have little impact on congressional leadership or energy policy.
Congress is on track to pass about 4 percent of the 11,644 bills introduced in the 114th Congress. It is too early to know if a burst of bipartisan cooperation will lead to a more productive 115th Congress.