No Tone Shift on Environment Seen With Ryan's Ascension

By Anthony Adragna and Ari Natter

Oct. 29 — Newly elected House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has devoted little attention during his time in Congress to environmental and energy issues, and lawmakers, political observers and environmental groups see little reason to suspect he will shift the chamber's approach to those topics.

Throughout the tenure of outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House has steadfastly pushed to block Environmental Protection Agency regulations, rapidly expand access to new energy sources and oppose comprehensive action on climate change. Observers don't think Speaker Ryan will change those priorities among the Republican conference.

“I think he's pretty comfortable with our position on energy, the bills we've passed, our efforts to stop the Clean Power Plan,” Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee, told Bloomberg BNA. “So I don't think his speakership is going to make a significant difference on our position on energy.”

Ryan, congressman from Wisconsin since 1999, became Speaker of the House Oct. 29 after securing the votes of 236 House lawmakers.

Environmental Groups Uneasy

Environmental advocates said Ryan has given off few signals as to how he would approach environmental and energy policy, but they are skeptical he will shift the chamber's approach.

“It would be great if Speaker Ryan was one to take a more forward-looking and less predictable path, but there's no indication thus far that's going to be the case,” David Goldston, director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Bloomberg BNA. “We haven't seen any effort to move away from this approach of trying to block everything.”

Ryan has a lifetime League of Conservation Voters score of 12 percent. That is an increase from the 2 percent lifetime score held by Boehner, but environmental groups remain skeptical the Wisconsin Republican will change his approach to the issues.

Sara Chieffo, vice president of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, said the score was misleading because Ryan's has been “steadily declining” over the years. Nevertheless, recent movement among some Republicans to acknowledge climate change might create an opening for Ryan to bring a new approach as speaker.

“We think Speaker Ryan has an opportunity for a fresh start, but there is nothing to make us believe Ryan wouldn't continue a full out assault on our energy and environment bedrock protections,” Chieffo told Bloomberg BNA.

In October 2014, Ryan acknowledged human activity contributes to climate change but said the science was not clear about how much (198 ECR, 10/14/14).

“Of course we have climate change,” Ryan said during a congressional debate. “We've had climate change forever. Is human involvement involved? Yes it is. To what extent? I don't know.”

‘Solid' on Energy Issues

Industry groups also agreed Ryan would not provoke a major shift in tone on energy and environmental issues but said those areas could serve as an opportunity to unite a diverse Republican caucus.

“Ryan is solid on energy issues, but it has never really been his primary focus,” Chris Warren, a spokesman for the American Energy Alliance, told Bloomberg BNA. “If he's looking for ways to unite the conference, then energy is probably a good place to start.”

The Wisconsin Republican has enjoyed strong support from energy companies throughout his time in Congress. According to the Federal Election Commission, Ryan received contributions on behalf of AES Corp., Dow Chemical Co., Halliburton Co., the Edison Electric Institute, DTE Energy Co., Xcel Energy Inc. and Cheniere Energy Inc., among others.

Another energy lobbyist told Bloomberg BNA Ryan's studious approach to policy matters would be “phenomenal for the energy industry.”

“I don't see huge changes for the house energy agenda under Paul Ryan, but I think it's going to get better,” the lobbyist said. “I think it will be more strategic. He demands more in terms of understanding details, he thinks through these things a lot more than most members.”

Some lawmakers said it was too soon to tell how Ryan might affect their work. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) told Bloomberg BNA that Ryan's record indicated he “would push smart economic growth in the energy-related field” but said he wasn't sure if the new speaker would affect the chamber's work.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna and Ari Natter in Washington at aadragna@bna.com and anatter@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com