Republican Election Gains Bode Well For More EPA Oversight, Keystone Pipeline

By Ari Natter

Nov. 5 — Republican gains in the midterm elections put one of the Senate's top climate change skeptics at the helm of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and likely mean that legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and fund the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository could find the 60 votes effectively needed to pass in the upper chamber.

Republicans on Nov. 4 gained at least seven seats to take control of the Senate and at least 14 seats in the House. Senate elections in Alaska, Louisiana and Virginia remain up in the air.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who will replace Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as majority leader, is expected to lead his party's efforts to roll back Environmental Protection Agency rules, including carbon dioxide pollution standards for power plants, ozone air quality standards and expanded Clean Water Act jurisdiction over U.S. waterways.

“I think it is reasonable to assume we will use the power of the purse to push back against this overactive bureaucracy,” McConnell said in a post-election speech Nov. 5. “Of course, we have a huge example of that in this state with the war on coal.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the EPA's staunchest congressional critics, will replace Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Inhofe is expected to use his perch to increase oversight of the EPA and push for fewer restrictions on the oil and gas industry.

To reach the 67 votes needed to overcome a veto from President Barack Obama, Senate Republicans still will have to work closely with their Democratic counterparts who now are in the minority.

Legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline and expediting the federal review process for exports of liquefied natural gas are expected to be among the measures included in an early energy push in the 114th Congress, senior Republicans from both chambers said following the election results.

Over 60 Votes Seen for Keystone

In an interview Nov. 5, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), the author of a bill (S. 2280) that would give Congress authority to approve the $8 billion pipeline proposed by TransCanada Corp. that was never brought to the floor for a vote, said the elections pushed the number of supporters past 60.

“Keystone will be one of the first bills out of the block this year,” Hoeven said. “It's a clear example of legislation with broad bipartisan support.”

However, the Obama administration may deem the pipeline approved before then “to rob the GOP of an early-session victory lap (or, less cynically, as an olive branch to the new Republican leadership),” ClearView Energy Partners, a Washington-based consulting firm, said in a Nov. 5 research note.

Other energy bills Republicans are expected to advance early in the 114th Congress include legislation that would expedite the federal review process for the export of liquefied natural gas to overseas nations, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in an interview.

Barrasso, the chairman of the Republican Senate Policy Committee, is the author of S. 192, which would require the Energy Department to automatically approve LNG exports to NATO allies, Japan and other countries.

Reid No Longer Gatekeeper

“Harry Reid has been blocking those votes,” Barrasso said, referring to the current Senate majority leader.

Reid's fall to minority leader also could pave the way for appropriations that would advance the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's licensing process of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in his home state, analysts said.

In the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the lower chamber would advance previously passed energy and environment bills that were never taken up by the Democrat-controlled Senate.

“Americans can expect the new Congress to debate and vote soon on the many common-sense jobs and energy bills that passed the Republican-led House in recent years with bipartisan support but were never even brought to a vote by the outgoing Senate majority, as well as solutions offered by Senate Republicans that were denied consideration,” Boehner said in a statement late Nov. 4

In addition to Keystone legislation, the House has passed bills that would expand oil drilling offshore and on federal lands, limit regulation of hydraulic fracturing and block EPA pollution limits for power plants.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ari Natter in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at