House Democrats are preparing an aggressive oversight agenda in the 116th Congress, and their most intense assault could be on the Trump administration’s energy and environmental agenda. Here are four things to know about how the 2018 elections will impact energy policy in 2019.
1. Democrats target oversight of Trump energy and environment policies. Democrats in January will have the investigative tools – including subpoenas and the ability to compel Trump administration officials to testify on Capitol Hill – to examine what they say has been the White House’s efforts to roll back recent environmental gains. The Democrats top targets include the activities of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the departments of Energy and Interior.
The principal investigators for House Democrats will be Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who will become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., who will become chairman of the Natural Resources Committee; and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who will become chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Democrats want to examine policies like the administration’s aggressive deregulatory agenda using the Congressional Review Act. Specifics include President Donald Trump’s efforts to repeal rules limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, water pollution rules for coal-fired power plants and methane rules for oil and natural gas drillers. They also are expected to examine the environmental impact of the pending trade agreement among United States, Mexico and Canada, as well as protections for endangered species.
Democrats will also focus on controversies within Trump’s cabinet, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s travel and business controversies, and those of former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
2. Limited opportunities for bipartisanship. Because Democrats and Republicans usually have diametrically opposed policies relating to energy and the environment, there’s little room for bipartisanship next year.
That won’t stop Democrats from advancing legislation that would address the causes and effects of climate change. But it’s not clear whether Democrats will schedule votes on carbon-cutting, such as renewing their 2009 effort to pass cap-and-trade legislation or taxing carbon.
Sweeping climate change legislation won’t pass the Republican-controlled Senate or be signed into law by Trump. Democrats’ House majority is slim, and many of the party’s new lawmakers were elected in tossup or lean-Republican districts. Would Democrat leaders want to put their vulnerable members in position to vote for controversial climate change legislation that can’t even pass the Senate?
3. 2020 politics complicates energy policy. While divided government makes bipartisanship on energy and environmental policy challenging, the looming presidential election all but dooms any efforts the parties may make to work together.
At least three potential Democrat presidential candidates serve on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, including Sens. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Sanders also serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
As they seek the Democrat nomination, these leading senators won’t be incentivized to strike bipartisan agreements on environmental policy, which is critically important to many Democrat presidential primary voters.
4. Climate panel back in business. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she was reconstituting the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which she created when Democrats were last in the House majority.
From March 2007 to December 2010, the committee held 80 hearings and briefings on U.S. energy resources, clean technologies and climate change. The panel was chaired by now-Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.
It’s not clear whom Pelosi will tap to lead the committee next year.