How the GOP could shake up U.S. energy policy

What's next for America's energy policies and initiatives in the wake of the massive political changeover in Washington?

President Barack Obama has made energy -- and the national transition toward alternative and renewable energy sources -- a signature focus of his administration. But with both the House and Senate coming under Republican control in January, some of those energy initiatives might be delayed, derailed or halted entirely.

Thomas Lorenzen, now a partner with the international law firm of Dorsey & Whitney, was assistant chief in the Justice Department's environment and natural resources division between 2004 and 2013. He believes the new GOP-dominated Congress might work to undo the administration's initiatives on carbon regulations, as well as the upcoming ozone standard and the so-called Waters of the United States rule, which expands Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jurisdiction over a wide expanse of U.S. bodies of water.

And while the Republicans may not be able to overcome presidential vetoes or Democratic filibusters, "the way they can affect the pace these things happening is to take up oversight hearings, forcing the administration to deal with Congress rather than write rules," Lorenzen told CBS MoneyWatch. "Another way is appropriations bills that would deny them funding."

Lorenzen expects Republicans to try cutting back on EPA funding for some key climate change programs. And he thinks some lawmakers might even try to abolish the EPA outright, "but they won't go far."

Regarding the controversial issue of fracking, the hydraulic fracturing of shale and other rock formations to get access to the oil and natural gas trapped within them, Lorenzen notes that most fracking regulations are currently being written on the state level. But "given the changes in the state capitals," he says many Republican governors could work to change restrictions on fracking.

And then there's the Keystone XL pipeline. So far, the Obama administration has delayed its decision on the deeply contentious 1,700-mile pipeline that, if approved, would transport shale oil from Western Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast refineries, where it would be exported overseas.

But Lorenzen says he wouldn't be surprised to see some movement on the Keystone pipeline before January.

"One possibility is the administration will cut Republicans off by approving Keystone before the Republican Senate," he says, "depriving the GOP of a victory, and extending an olive branch." Another scenario he envisions is the new Congress approving the pipeline with bipartisan support.