Republican lawmakers in the House on Thursday elected Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee.
Walden, first elected to the House in 1998, won a seat on the E&C Committee in 2001 and has served as chairman of the E&C Subcommittee on Communications and Technology since 2011. He will succeed Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) as chairman. Upton, who has served as chairman since 2010, is required to step down because of term limits.
"I am deeply honored to earn the support of my colleagues to chair this incredibly important committee," Upton said Thursday. "Americans are looking for big improvements out of Washington, and that's just what we're going to give them as we work with the Trump administration, the Senate, and the governors, to move forward on the Better Way agenda.
"Our work will focus on what's best for consumers, on creating better paying jobs and providing patient-centered health care."
The House Republican Steering Committee has also considered Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Joe Barton (R-TX) for the post. Barton was named E&C's chairman emeritus in 2010.
"They are talented legislators and leaders to whom I will turn for help as we embark on our legislative work," Walden said of Shimkus and Barton. He also thanked Upton, whom he said had proven "that our committee does great, bipartisan work for the American people."
American Energy Alliance President Thomas Pyle called Walden "an outstanding choice" who "brings a much-needed Western perspective" to the E&C Committee.
"I have known Rep. Walden and his team for many years and there is no doubt in my mind that under his leadership the committee will work to reset years of bad energy policies that are failing the American people," Pyle said Thursday. "He understands the issues and recognizes that policies such as the renewable fuel standard, unrealistic fuel economy mandates, and the [Environmental Protection Agency's] carbon regulations for power plants harm American families and businesses."
During a media event Friday in Washington, DC, incoming American Gas Association (AGA) Chairman Pierce Norton said he believes the political direction of the E&C Committee will ultimately be decided by President-elect Trump.
"Of all the stuff that I heard [Trump] say during the election campaigns, energy was something that I felt he was probably the most consistent on," Norton said. "I didn't hear a lot of going back from one side to the other. It's kind of regardless of who he puts in what position and what their backgrounds are. We're all influenced by where we came from, but I do think the overall direction is probably going to come from the president-elect.
"I think that as long as [the E&C Committee] makes fact-based decisions, and then they understand any kind of unintended consequences with those decisions, then I'm not too concerned about whoever they put in there."
AGA CEO Dave McCurdy added that the United States was entering a unique time, when one political party controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.
"It's clear that the new administration is going to work closely with the House," McCurdy said. "E&C is an important committee. It was clear that whether [House Republicans] went with Shimkus or Walden, the committee's direction would be pretty well the same.
"Greg is well known. We like him. I don't think there's going to be one philosophical direction more than the other."
McCurdy added that he thought the E&C Committee could be more focused on telecommunications issues. Besides serving as chairman of the E&C Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Walden and his wife owned and operated small radio market radio stations in Oregon for 21 years, according to his website.
"From an oil and gas perspective, and the issues that we deal with, he will be a great chair," McCurdy said. "He's very intelligent, widely respected, very much into policy. We think that will be fine."
Norton said it was important that lawmakers and the public know that the natural gas industry is "trying to do the right thing."
"We're trying to do the right thing for our customers, our employees and our shareholders," Norton said. "We're running these businesses as safely [and] economically as we possibly can. We are very fortunate to have a product that now has abundance like we've never seen before.
"As long as whoever is in that seat understands the facts, we'll still keep going straight down the road. Four or eight years from now it will probably be somebody different. Who knows? We need to just keep doing what we do."