As the final ballots are tallied from the mid-term elections, the 38 North Solutions team is taking stock of how changes in the make-up of both House and Senate could impact clean energy and innovation public policy.
On the House side, the decisions on Speaker and key Chairmanships will likely take place the week after Thanksgiving. It is expected that Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) will be back as Chair of Energy and Commerce, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) as Chair of Natural Resources, and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) as Chair of Science. We also expect Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) to take over the Ways and Means Committee while Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) should assume Chair of Appropriations.
In the Senate, changes in seats and retirements will have Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) and the Republican leadership potentially deciding as early as the week before Thanksgiving on key Chairmanship spots, including Finance.
Because of the split control of the Congress, it will be challenging to find issues on which both chambers can agree, but we think there are several opportunities for clean energy and innovation.
Infrastructure. While a key plank of the Democrats’ 2019 agenda will be oversight of the Trump Administration, party leaders understand they need a positive message that can build momentum for the 2020 presidential election. Infrastructure can be an issue that brings positive outcomes for local job creation and economic development; key staff has been working quietly behind the scenes for months on a proposal they hope can garner the support of Senate Republicans and the White House. We have heard that grid modernization will be considered a key part of this package. As a result, it is critical for innovative companies to think about how their technologies could benefit from federal legislation and present their ideas soon.
Resilience. Extreme weather events and the resulting devastation have Democrats and Republicans alike thinking creatively about how legislation could help local communities rebuild in a more resilient manner. We will work to ensure innovative and clean technologies are given preference as flexible and resilient tools to mitigate impacts from these catastrophes and look to opportunities in both chambers to develop public policies that incentivize resilience.
Farm Bill. The farm bill expired in September, and has since been operating under a short-term extension. Both the House and Senate passed farm bills earlier this year, but substantive disagreements between the two chambers related to work requirements for food stamps make the chances of an agreement before the end of the year unlikely. Should the issue be pushed to next year, new Committee Chairman Colin Peterson (D-MN), will restart the process. While largely focused on agriculture programs, the bill’s energy title contains significant opportunities for renewables and, potentially, distributed energy resources.
Appropriations. The 12 appropriations bills fund all of the Federal government, including research and development, block grants, technical assistance, and pilot programs for advanced energy technologies. As we saw with increases to ARPA-E, for example, these programs often have strong bipartisan support. In addition to program funding, it is also worth proposing report language that can address issues specific to clean energy that do not require direct appropriations.
Other Possibilities. We expect the House Science Committee to begin evaluating the latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change more seriously, and that the House leadership might well reinstate the Select Committee on Global Warming to continue addressing climate change mitigation and greenhouse gas reduction. We do not expect another cap and trade or carbon tax bill in the near term, but we certainly think that discussion of these issues will be elevated and continue to grow over time.
We also believe that continued discussions of the Federal Power Act and PURPA will take place in House Energy and Commerce and Senate Energy and Natural Resources. We will continue to look for opportunities to both protect and add qualifying technologies to PURPA, while enhancing access to competitive markets for all resources.
In summary, while there will be substantial changes in the make-up and leadership in both chambers, we believe there will be significant opportunities in the coming year for clean energy and innovation public policy. If any of these opportunities for engagement seem helpful to your business, we would be happy to set-up a consultation to discuss how 38 North can help you work with the new Congress to advance your business or organizational objectives.