Republicans are expected to pick up a number of seats in Tuesday's midterm election, potentially taking control of the House of Representatives and coming close to attaining majority in the Senate, according to energy analysts. Despite the anticipated shift in power, energy is likely to remain a back-burner issue in the lame-duck session and in fiscal year (FY) 2011.
The "conventional wisdom at this point is that Republicans have a better than 50% chance" of taking control of the House, said Martin Edwards, vice president of legislative affairs for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America.
In the Senate Republicans are expected to pick up eight seats -- just shy of the 10 that they would need to assume majority in that chamber, he noted.
Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, agrees with Edwards. "Most projections say there is a good chance that the Democrats will lose the House," but it "seems unlikely that the Senate will shift its majority" to the Republicans, he said. "A lot of the races are tightening," so the elections will be "interesting," he said. One of the more interesting races will be in Alaska, where incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a write-in candidate, reportedly is running neck-and-neck with the Republican candidate Joe Miller (see NGI, Oct. 18).
The "Democratic leadership insists it will ultimately retain the House of Representatives," but "we'd not be betting on it," said energy analyst Christine Tezak of Robert W. Baird & Co. And "at minimum the Democrats are expected to see their numbers drop from the current 59 to just over 50 [in the Senate]. While still the majority, greater concessions will be made," she noted.
The congressional agenda will be limited when lawmakers return for their lame duck session, Edwards said. He said Congress will either pass a continuing resolution to keep the government operating past Dec. 3, or an omnibus appropriations bill for FY 2011.
"It seems like doing something major in the lame duck [session] is remote," said Fuller.
Energy and environmental issues will be way down the list for Congress in the upcoming year, Edwards said. "I'm not sure it's going to be a priority for the Congress" in 2011, he noted. Lawmakers' attention will be on the economy. "Maybe where jobs and the economy intersect with energy, there will be some debate," Edwards said.
In 2011, "if energy comes up, it will be a different debate. It's hard to imagine the House and Senate passing a global climate bill," said Fuller.
"[President] Obama says he'll support Congress moving smaller energy-related bills instead of a single, overarching comprehensive bill, such as Waxman-Markey or Kerry-Lieberman climate and energy proposals...but they all share a flaw -- they all are expensive at a time when voters are pushing back on deficit spending," Tezak said.
While action on Capitol Hill is expected to be light, the oil and natural gas industry may see more from the regulatory front. "Who knows what we'll see coming out of the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency]" for the oil and gas extraction industry before the year's up, Fuller said.
In addition, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is voting out proposed rules to implement the financial reforms under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act (see related story).
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