5 Post-Election Implications for Energy Companies and U.S. Policy

Last Updated Nov 3, 2010 4:14 PM EDT

Now that Republicans control the House -- thanks to an Election Day rout in which more than 50 Democrats lost their seats -- the prospects for a climate bill have been shot to hell. Not that it had a chance anyway. It's safe to say, the House will change course. But what's their priority? It will be more about protecting fossil fuel-based businesses and stripping away federal agency powers than a direct assault on clean energy. Still, clean tech will feel the sting.

1. Republican-controlled energy committee. Sounds obvious enough, right? It's important to remember that the House Energy and Commerce Committee not only shapes energy policy, it also has the power to investigate. We saw that with the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year. This time around, the focus will likely be on the EPA, the legitimacy of climate science and even an investigation into the Obama Administration's handling of the Gulf oil spill.

And one of the guy's hoping to grab the gavel is none other than Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who famously apologized to former BP CEO Tony Hayward for what he described as the $20 billion shakedown by President Obama for loss claims in the Gulf oil spill. Other possibilities are Fred Upton of Michigan and the more conservative Cliff Stearns of Florida.

It also will likely mean the death of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which provided a welcome mat for climate scientists who urged for tighter emissions controls and more funding towards clean energy technology.

2) Climate science and clean tech funding. There's a legitimate fear that with so many climate change deniers voted into office this week that the science itself will be attacked. After all, it was only last year that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce suggested a Skopes-like monkey trial on climate change.

A far more likely consequence? Cuts in federal funding to anything related to climate science and quite possibly into clean energy technology. The same circumstance may occur in the Senate, even though Democrats will maintain a slight edge over Republicans. If the elections (there are still undecided outcomes as of Wednesday) result in a 51-49 split in the Senate, the committee structure and Democrats power will change, the WSJ noted. Democrats, who used to enjoy a two-person advantage on most panels, to will find it harder to win votes.

3) A battle with the EPA. Republicans have had the EPA in its sights for sometime and will certainly ramp up their fight to restrict the agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA declared last December that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are a threat to public health. The agency will require state regulators beginning in January to issue Clean Air Act permits for large stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions -- like refineries and power plants. Take EPA's power away, or at least handicap the agency, and major industries will be given a reprieve from paying for pollution permits.

4.) A friendlier drilling environment. That's not to say Republicans will forget or forgive BP for its Gulf oil spill earlier this year. But there will be a push within the House to get offshore drilling back in action in the Gulf. The president's moratorium on deepwater drilling ended recently, but many worry the permitting process for both shallow and deepwater will remain at a standstill and put the industry at risk.

5) An all of the above approach to energy. The support will go heavily towards nuclear, domestically produced oil and gas (meaning onshore and offshore drilling) and even conventional coal. There will probably be some support for clean energy, but not to the level that existed before. If nuclear rises to the top of the agenda, expect it much of the attention to be on the past and not necessarily new projects. The focus? Obama's decision to cancel the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

Photo from Flickr user seanmcgrath, CC 2.0
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