Three things Big Oil wants to buy with its new Congress
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Last Tuesday was the most expensive midterm in U.S. history, with an estimated price tag of nearly $4 billion.
Exactly who spent what is still a little unclear. What is known is that in the final weeks an infusion of cash was dropped into tight Senate races, specifically timed with filing deadlines to obscure where the money came from until after the election. And of course dark money groups, empowered to spend unlimited funds by Supreme Court rulings like Citizens United, are under no obligation to disclose their donors.
But even without the final numbers, one thing is clear: Big Oil spent big.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, contributions from the oil and gas industry totaled $50 million for the 2014 cycle—and that number could easily rise as filing data continues to trickle in. Although long time industry champions like Mary Landrieu (D-LA) got their fair share, the biggest recipients were influential GOP members like noted climate skeptic John Cornyn (R-TX) and competitors in tight Senate races like Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA).
In other words, the oil and gas industry just made a big investment to flip the Senate to GOP control. And like all good businesses, they are going to expect this investment to bring in solid returns.
Here are three ways the new Senate could possibly return the favor:
Keystone XL. One of the earliest takeaways after election night was that there would soon be a filibuster-proof Senate majority in favor of Keystone XL.
While some Keystone opponents like Senator Mark Udall (D-Co) were defeated, most of the vanquished D’s actually backed the project. Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Mark Begich (D-AL) both supported the pipeline to try to prolong their stays in the Senate. Even Mark Udall tried to snuggle up to the fossil fuels industry by supporting the export of Liquified Natural Gas—all to no avail. In a lesson democrats may want to remember, one of the only incumbents in a remotely close race to win was pipeline opponent Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).
As part of a last ditch effort to help Mary Landrieu win the Louisiana run-off, the Senate is expected to vote on a pipeline approval bill this coming Tuesday. This may be the first opportunity to President Obama to exercise his veto, although he hasn’t been exactly clear that this is what he plans to do.
Tax Reform. Both President Obama and Senator McConnell claim to want tax reform, and both claim that a simpler tax code, with fewer loopholes and lower overall rates, is the way to go. Pundits are skeptical of anything happening before 2016, but if a bargain does move forward Big Oil has a lot to lose—starting with about $50 billion in special interest tax breaks over the next decade.
Protecting these loopholes from a bipartisan budget deal is going to be a major priority for the industry and its champions in Congress. The good news is that when tax reform does happen, either before 2016 or after, they may be in for a fight. Solid majorities of voters from across the political spectrum want to see these giveaways repealed, and in the last cycle supporting fossil fuel subsidies became fodder for negative campaign ads.
Export Reform. Fracking is already a bad bet for our air, our water, and the climate. The last thing we need is another source of demand to justify even more drilling. Unfortunately, the new Congress plans to put the fracking boom on steroids by allowing domestic supplies even easier access to global markets.
This is going to happen through a legislative fix that forces federal regulators to expedite the approval of new natural gas export facilities, effectively running roughshod over their ability to raise environmental and public health concerns. This is terrible news for the climate, since natural gas can only be exported after it has been super-cooled into a liquid, a process so energy-intensive that the fuel becomes worse for the climate than coal. This is also terrible news for the frontline communities fighting fracking, since more exports almost certainly means more drilling.
In fact, this is really only good news for exporters, who will have an easier time cashing in on overseas markets like Japan and South Korea where prices are much higher.
The problem isn’t that anything on this list is inevitable. The problem is that everything on this list is possible. Eager to accomplish something in his last two years, President Obama may decide that giving ground on energy issues is the best way to secure a deal on taxes, spending, or immigration reform.
But the climate is not a bargaining chip.
A majority of Americans still support action on carbon emissions. Now may be a good time for them to weigh in and remind the president that the surest way to an environmental legacy is through his veto pen.
Image credit Pixabay via Creative Commons