Next year’s GOP-controlled Senate is expected to come out strongly against President Barack Obama ’s most consequential energy and environment policies, with the likely majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, vowing to hold votes on the Keystone XL pipeline and legislation to pare back the administration’s proposed carbon emissions rules.
It is an open question how much headway Republicans can make, given the Senate’s 60-vote procedural threshold and the threat of a presidential veto. But centrist Democrats with home-state energy interests could align with Republicans to create bipartisan majorities on bills that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) didn’t want to bring to the floor, including approving the Keystone XL pipeline, curtailing Environmental Protection Agency rules to cut carbon emissions and expediting federal reviews of natural-gas exports. The votes would put senators on the record in a way Mr. Reid often avoided.
“There will certainly be a more positive tone for the industry with new leadership,” said Robert Johnston, chief executive of the Eurasia Group, a political analysis firm. “But in terms of actual movement on carbon or crude exports or energy taxes, I don’t see any major game-changers there based on the ability for Democrats to continue to slow things down.”
On Keystone XL, the 1,700-mile pipeline that would send up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day to Gulf Coast refineries, Senate Republicans likely have the 60 votes to pass legislation approving it. The pipeline already had 56 solid supporters before the GOP gains that included wins by Republican Senate candidates Cory Gardner in Colorado, Joni Ernst in Iowa, Mike Rounds in South Dakota and Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia. The House, which remains in Republican hands, is expected to follow suit.
The pipeline has become a political flash point in the debate over climate change, the economy and energy independence. TransCanada , the Calgary-based company seeking to build the project, first filed its application at the U.S. State Department for the necessary federal approval to cross the Canadian-U.S. border in September 2008.
“The Keystone XL pipeline has always enjoyed bipartisan support and is a great example of an issue where both parties can work together to create jobs and enhance energy security for the United States,” TransCanada Chief Executive Russ Girling said in a statement Wednesday. “After six years, it is time to break the gridlock on Keystone and move forward.”
Mr. Obama has shown in the past that he isn’t afraid to rebut congressional action on Keystone, so he could veto any bill that reaches his desk approving the pipeline. It is unlikely Republicans could muster the additional votes to reach the 67 needed to override a veto, but Republicans say they would seek to attach the measure to a must-pass piece of legislation that the president wouldn’t want to veto, such as a spending bill. Mr. Obama is expected to make a final decision on Keystone only after litigation in Nebraska is resolved, whose ruling is likely by year’s end.
“If he vetoes it, I don’t know if we’ll have 67 votes, but clearly we would attach it to broader energy legislation or an appropriations measure,” said Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.), who has sponsored Keystone-approval legislation that has 56 co-sponsors. “So I believe we will be able to move it either way.”
Another top target of Republicans is a suite of EPA rules that would cut carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants, a cornerstone of Mr. Obama’s climate agenda. Republicans may well have the 60 votes to delay or significantly hamstring EPA’s authority over climate change—and the GOP-controlled House would surely follow suit—but Mr. Obama is likely to veto any such measure.
The Obama administration can expect tough oversight of EPA with the anticipated return of Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.) as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Mr. Inhofe doubts the scientific consensus that humans’ burning of fossil fuels causes climate change and is one of the most vocal critics of Mr. Obama’s climate agenda.