• Ben Finzel

Election 2018 Impact on Energy and Environmental Policy

Updated: Mar 3, 2019


Election 2018 was billed as many things, and it delivered in many ways. It was both surprising and expected and dramatic and simple. Its impact on federal energy and environmental policy will be similarly interesting. Here’s a snapshot of our thinking on the impact of the midterm election on the key national topics at the core of our communications consulting business. For each topic, we’ve provided our take on “likely opportunities” and “likely challenges” to share a sense of specific sectors and industries that could be most engaged in the near term policy communications landscape at the federal level.

Energy Policy

  • Likely opportunities: Given the bipartisan nature of its support, carbon capture policy will likely get another look and we could see one or more bills enacted in the next Congress (full disclosure: the Carbon Capture Coalition is a client).

  • Likely challenges: With a divided Congress and a seemingly uninterested White House*, there is little hope for enactment of comprehensive energy policy in the next two years unless Senators Murkowski and Cantwell can find interest and support for their bipartisan legislation from new leadership in the House. *FERC action on the administration’s efforts to prop up the coal industry will cause controversy and generate action if attempted.

Energy Efficiency

  • Likely opportunities: There could be new hope for the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol with new leadership in the House. In addition, the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill might have a chance of passage if moderates in the House want to actually move legislation.

  • Likely challenges: Conservative members in the House might target federal programs given past interest from this wing of the Republican party in going after common-sense efficiency policy on lighting and the administration’s lukewarm support for Energy Star and similar programs.

Renewable Energy

  • Likely opportunities: The action is likely to continue to be at the state level unless Sen. Bennet reintroduces his community solar bill and that more bipartisan issue gathers support in the absence of action on broader solar or wind policy. That said, we could see some sort of action on energy storage as that market continues to grow dramatically and established companies announce new funding.

  • Likely challenges: With Secretary Zinke likely leaving Interior (if speculative news reports are to be believed), an avowed supporter of wind energy development on federal lands will be gone. His likely replacement is a former oil and gas lobbyist so it’s an open question if he’ll be as interested in boosting wind energy development as Zinke said he was.

Environmental Protection

  • Likely opportunities: There could be some movement on water policy, given the administration’s interest in leveraging federal power to help specific members of Congress right before the election. However, look for investigations into the ongoing Flint water crisis and other efforts to shine a light on issues neglected by the administration to generate attention, at least in Congress.

  • Likely challenges: Efforts to promote infrastructure development by the administration may run up against existing land and species protection laws. While new leadership in the House may oppose any changes, there will likely be pressure to act on infrastructure development given the economic benefits that will be promised.

Natural Resource Protection

  • Likely opportunities: New leadership in the House may seek to stop recent efforts to boost oil and gas and other leasing on federal lands as well as efforts by the administration to reduce the size of national parks and monuments. Look for hearings and other investigations as drivers of action and attention on natural resource protection.

  • Likely challenges: If Secretary Zinke leaves Interior, it’s likely that Interior policy will follow the recent example of EPA policy: the same actions, but from a less controversial leader. Zinke's assumed replacement would likely carry out the same policies, which would mean threats to public lands preservation and endangered species would continue.

Climate Change and Sustainable Development

  • Likely opportunities: Slim to none for comprehensive policy. Regardless of changes in Congress, the only likely movement on climate and sustainability policy in the next two years is in carbon capture policy, methane and/or nuclear policy. While none of these issues represents a comprehensive approach to climate change or sustainable development, they are the only likely areas of bipartisan agreement and action.

  • Likely challenges: Pressure – and action – on the Paris Agreement from cities and states and the private sector (and the Select Committee on Climate Change the House may restart) may drive limited action in the House, but it’s unlikely to change federal policy for the next two years. Depending on how aggressive the House is in forming the new select committee, the administration may seek to promote counter actions to blunt any progress from those proponents.

Clean Transportation

  • Likely opportunities: One of the few bright spots in clean transportation in the next few years may be in the continued push for cleaner transportation fuels for aviation and other large, multi-national industry sectors. While no federal action is likely, there may be some small efforts to provide funding for research and development efforts in this sector.

  • Likely challenges: Transit has been a dirty word in this administration and changes in Congress are unlikely to alter that fact. Challenges to funding for Amtrak and Northeast Corridor rail infrastructure improvements are still likely (even with the infrastructure push by the administration expected in 2019).

That’s our take on the landscape as it looks today, in early November 2018. We’ll come back to this post and our thoughts above in the months ahead. Watch for more insight as the new Congress gets into gear and action commences (or not!).



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