The 2020 election season is in full effect and the nation could not be more polarized.
The Democratic presidential debates running up to the Iowa caucuses provided candidates with opportunities to share their views on energy, which produced a fascinating array of anti-fossil energy policies that deviate dramatically from those of the Trump administration.
Of the eight Democratic candidates that are left in the race, seven say they will end new leasing for oil and gas on federal lands and waters. Two candidates would ban all hydraulic fracturing in the U.S.
Climate change is undoubtedly the singular issue driving Democratic candidates when it comes to energy policy. In a December debate, in response to a question Joe Biden said that yes, he would be willing to sacrifice thousands or even hundreds of thousands of U.S. oil and gas jobs in support of a transition away from fossil fuels.
In early February, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced a bill that would ban hydraulic fracturing. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced a similar measure in the House. These bills are part of a broader effort by lawmakers and activists to decrease the use of oil and gas.
Variations of the Green New Deal (GND) are being touted by Democratic presidential candidates. This proposal would phase out fossil fuel use, fund renewable energy projects and research and address social justice goals though an “Economic Bill of Rights.” Central to the GND is addressing climate change. While much of its emphasis is on advancing renewable energy and conservation to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the proposal focuses on preparing for the impacts of climate change.
At the same time, House Republicans, led by Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, recently rolled out a package of bills aimed at addressing climate change. Three of the bills focus on tax credits and research into carbon capture, utilization and storage and a fourth bill backs President Trump’s plan for the U.S. joining other countries in planting a trillion trees globally. While many consider these to be rational and practical proposals, House Republicans took flak from the left for not going far enough and from the right for being expensive.
In the Senate, Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Joe Manchin (D-WV) of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, are gearing up to introduce a bi-partisan energy bill in the coming days. While they have not revealed what is in the bill, it is expected to be non-controversial with a focus on energy efficiency, energy storage, grid modernization, expansion of loan guarantees and certain tax incentives. While it is not likely that an energy bill will move this year, the Committee will likely pass something that could be attached to a bill that moves later in the year. That said, with the elections upon us, it is hard to visualize an energy bill that could be agreed upon by House and Senate conferees.
All the while, the Trump administration continues to promote robust development of U.S. fossil energy and policies that expand oil and gas development and infrastructure on federal lands and offshore, and expansion of America’s ability to export crude oil, natural gas, refined products and chemicals.
The primary factors holding back U.S. energy dominance are low commodity prices (which can slow production), access to capital markets, waning interest by investors in fossil energy, global demand growth uncertainty and a certain collision course with climate change policy. That collision course will no doubt play out on the U.S presidential campaign trail. So everyone, hold on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Jack Belcher is senior vice president of Cornerstone Energy Solutions and advises energy, transportation and financial services clients on government relations, regulatory affairs, risk management, ESG management, coalition building and stakeholder relations. He is also managing director of the National Ocean Policy Coalition.
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