Experts see ‘more of the same’ on energy next year

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2016

The topsy-turvy campaign for the White House and a tough fight for Republicans to maintain control of the Senate are unlikely to ease the gridlock that has characterized U.S. energy policy in recent years, a panel of political figures told an event sponsored by the oil and gas industry this morning.

During the discussion sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, former Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), ex-White House energy aide Heather Zichal, American Action Forum President Douglas Holtz-Eakin and API Vice President of Regulatory and Economic Policy Kyle Isakower signaled low expectations for a new president and the next Congress.

“Probably more of the same, to be honest,” on the oil and gas industry’s agenda, which has been mired in the climate debate for years, said Holtz-Eakin, a former head of the Congressional Budget Office who advised Sen. John McCain during the Arizona Republican’s 2008 presidential bid.

Referencing the unusual nature of the GOP race, dominated by Donald Trump and hard conservative Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), as well as the “murky” outlook for Senate Republicans this fall, Holtz-Eakin was pessimistic about the odds for major energy policy breakthroughs.

“This is an election where the status quo is not easily repealed,” he said.

Landrieu, who is supporting Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, said her former Senate colleague is the “best-suited among the candidates from both sides to try and find middle ground.”

“She’s demonstrated her abilities to make very tough compromises, which is why she’s getting beat up on the left,” she said.

But Landrieu — who also signaled that Clinton would be “more friendly” to the oil and gas industry than the Obama administration — suggested that it may require divine intervention “to straighten out Congress.”

“I just think that no matter who gets elected, we’re in for a little rough patch, that’s my feeling,” she said. “I think that Sen. Clinton will be the best, but I don’t think she’s going to usher in a grand era of cooperation.”

Zichal, who served as President Obama’s top energy and climate policy adviser and signaled support for Clinton, warned that even should the former secretary of State win the election, “I think you’re not going to see a watershed moment, in terms of Congress turning around and saying, ‘Hey, let’s work together on day one.’

“That’s going to take time to rebuild that relationship and get things hopefully functional,” Zichal added. “In the interim, you’re going to see, at least a Democratic president, using a lot of their existing authorities” to set energy and climate policy.

Isakower concurred. “It’s hard to see that you’re going to have enough congressional momentum” to legislate new policies.

Yet API is determined to make sure that candidates from both parties understand the impacts of energy on voters and the economy, releasing policy recommendations delivered today to the platform committees of both parties ahead of the summer conventions.

Broadly, the policies reiterate familiar themes for the group, including recognizing the new “energy reality” driven by hydraulic fracturing; basing policies on science and economic considerations; easing the regulatory burden; and achieving environmental goals through private-sector engagement, rather than government mandates.

“Our goal is to make clear that with the right energy policies in place, we can continue to help grow our economy and maintain our nation’s role as a global energy leader, even as the oil and natural gas industry responds to current market difficulties,” API President Jack Gerard said this morning.

Pressed on their expectations on what energy policies Trump would promote, the panel members laughed and briefly talked over one another before the moderator invited the audience to ask its own questions.

Speaking ahead of the panel, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said the message received from voters so far in the campaign is they’re completely fed up with Washington.

“I think this is the only chance that the public really has to engage and show how dissatisfied they — and they’re dissatisfied with the process and the dysfunction that we have displayed,” he told Gerard. “People are just mad. They’re just absolutely mad.”