The morning after: What the election results mean for energy

The dust is still settling after the mid-term elections that swept Republicans into power on Capitol Hill, giving them control over the House for the first time in four years and weakening the Democrats’ hold on the Senate. But nationwide, one thing is clear: the politics of energy played a role in congressional contests and energy policies were decided in at least one state ballot initiative.

1) That cap-and-trade vote was costly:

Voting for so-called cap-and-trade legislation last year was politically toxic for some members of Congress, who lost their re-election bids yesterday.

In Virginia, Republican Morgan Griffith won over Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher, who played an instrumental role inking a compromise that helped insulate consumers reliant on coal-fired power plants — and helped ensure the bill’s House passage. On the campaign trail, Griffith repeatedly criticized Boucher’s role crafting the climate change measure.

Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello’s “aye” vote for the cap-and-trade bill was a major factor in his re-election loss against Republican Robert Hurt. Even a last-minute campaign stop by President Barack Obama on Friday wasn’t enough to give Perriello enough of a boost. In voting for the climate change bill last year, Perriello said he was doing the right thing — even if it cost him his seat.

2) California Senate race:

Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., held onto her seat in the Senate — and the gavel for the Environment and Public Works Committee — after turning back a challenge from Republican Carly Fiorina.

This was a big win for Boxer, and for the environmentalists who have long considered her an ally. Had she lost, her likely replacement heading the environmental panel would have been Sen. Tom Carper, a more moderate Democrat from Delaware.

3) Greenhouse gas limits in California:

First, the Giants trounced the Texas Rangers in the World Series. Then, the Golden State prevailed in the war between Texas-based refiners and California environmentalists, with yesterday’s defeat of a proposal that would have suspended a state program to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Proposition 23 would have halted the state law imposing those emissions reduction requirements until California’s unemployment level hits 5.5 percent or lower — and stays there for at least a year. Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro Corp. spent millions of dollars trying to build support for the ballot initiative.

Environmental advocates cheered the defeat of Proposition 23 as a sign that Americans want cleaner power, even if it means higher energy bills and prices at the pump. This could embolden advocates of emissions limits in other states, even though proposals to impose them nationwide are unlikely to pass in Congress anytime soon. (See No. 5)

“Millions of voters said they see clean energy jobs as the path forward through a tough economic climate,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “That sends a strong message far beyond California. Voters asked their leaders to chart a future toward clean energy, less pollution, and less dependence on imported oil. Congress should pay attention.”

4) A red wave swept through the U.S. and is headed to the Capitol:

Voters put Republicans in control of the House last night and strengthened their numbers in the Senate — changes that will mean a transformation in the way Congress handles energy policy.

Democratic-backed cap-and-trade legislation is officially out, and initiatives to get rid of tax incentives for oil and gas companies also may now be on ice. In their place: Republicans’ “all-of-the-above” approach to energy policy, which blends oil and gas drilling with incentives for nuclear power and proposals to give a boost to some clean energy.

The shift in priorities will be made clear if Republicans follow through on threats to get rid of the short-lived Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, established by Democrats and now headed by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who is jockeying with Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, for the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the global warming panel has wasted millions of dollars on fact-finding missions and writing reports.

With Republicans in control of the House and Democrats still in charge of the Senate, compromises on sweeping energy proposals may be impossible. Instead, analysts predict progress on energy issues will be incremental. For instance, Republicans and Democrats could try to forge a compromise on plans to for a “clean energy mandate” that forces utilities nationwide to derive some of their power from low-pollution sources, including nuclear power and “clean coal” technology being developed. That’s a broader plan than the “renewable energy mandate” Democrats envisioned being limited to wind, solar and some hydro power.

Beyond policy, Republicans in the House are poised to rev up their oversight role by launching investigative hearings on the administration’s processing of drilling permits and the Environmental Protection Agency’s handling of controversial regulations governing smog and greenhouse gas emissions.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who will take over as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the panel would investigate the EPA “if they’re not living up to their requirements as to rulemaking, public notice and . . . taking shortcuts.”