Oil & Gas 360: ANWR, Unfinished Energy Biz Top Senate To Do List

Against the backdrop of a bitter government shutdown, the new bipartisan leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee are forging ahead with setting the panel’s agenda for the 116th Congress, huddling this week to talk business before landing at a house party hosted by former ENR Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-La.). 

Following their first meeting this year as chairwoman and ranking member, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said the committee’s first order of business will be cleaning up the unfinished business from the past two years.

That includes a handful of outstanding executive branch nominations for the departments of Energy and the Interior, who did not make the year-end confirmation deal. Both lawmakers indicated they’d like to see the nominees confirmed quickly without further hearings.

“I would like to work a more expedited process,” Murkowski told E&E News yesterday, although she noted she needs to check with new GOP members Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.). 

Manchin said he is reviewing the nominations but didn’t think additional hearings would be necessary either. “They’re trying to basically speed this thing up,” he said. 

The pair is also prepping for a floor debate on an omnibus public lands package that includes permanent reauthorization of the lapsed Land and Water Conservation Fund. 

That bill is awaiting floor time after the objections of Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) scuttled an attempt to pass the measure in the Senate before the holidays. Senate leaders at the time agreed to bring it back in the early weeks of the new Congress (Greenwire, Jan. 9). 

However, Manchin’s ascension to ranking member on the ENR Committee means he will manage the bill on the floor for Democrats instead of co-author Maria Cantwell of Washington, who is now the top Democrat on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. 

“I’m getting up to speed on that because it looks like I might have to work that on the floor,” Manchin told reporters yesterday, adding that Cantwell will also be involved. “I understand there’s some concerns on the last bill. … [W]e’ll try to work through some of these things, but I think they want to keep it as clean as possible.” 

Murkowski said she did not expect the committee to formally meet until February. She noted that in addition to the holdover nominees, who have yet to be formally renominated, the panel also faces hearings for Ryan Zinke’s successor at Interior and a new commissioner for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to fill the vacancy created this month by the death of former FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre. 

Manchin’s coal-friendly roots were criticized by environmentalists when Democrats were organizing for the new Congress as it became clear he would replace Cantwell. The ranking member said he hopes to find balance on environmental and production concerns. 

“We’re stripping down to the basics: We want clean water, we want clean air, we want to have an economy that works in balance with the environment, we really do,” he said. “Here we come from Alaska and West Virginia, but we want people basically to have an opportunity but to do it in a safe, in a clean manner.” 

Technology research and development will be a key focus of the energy side of the committee’s work, Manchin said, echoing an area Murkowski has recently highlighted for the next two years as well (E&E Daily, Jan. 3). 

“We think all that can be accomplished and we can be a leader in the world,” he said. 

On the public lands side of the equation, Manchin said he’s getting a crash course in geography. 

“I’m trying to get up to speed as quickly as I can about the Western lands, coming from the eastern part of the United States,” he said. “Ours are basically private ownership things that we have to deal with, and they deal with federal lands.” 

Speaking one day after meeting with the heads of two major environmental groups, Manchin also said he plans to be a watchdog for resources culled on public lands (E&E Daily, Jan. 10). 

“I want to make sure that we’re not wasting our resources, that we’re getting fair market values, the same as we would in the private sector,” he said. “If the private sector can survive on the prices they pay, then I’m sure people doing business on the public lands can do the same.” 

Manchin also signaled he’s game for a long-standing Murkowski tradition: trading home state visits with her Democratic counterpoint on the committee. 

“I want to go back” to Alaska, he said. “I want to go to [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge]. I want to see it.” 

Manchin also said he intends to bring Murkowski back to West Virginia, which she visited at his invitation in 2012 along with then-ENR Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). 

“I’m going to do that again,” he said, adding that he’d like to take the committee on the road to see “the opportunities and challenges we have. In-country codels would be a novelty.” 

On Wednesday night, Manchin and Murkowski were the guests of honor at a “packed” gathering at former Sen. Landrieu’s house, the onetime ENR chairwoman told E&E News yesterday. 

“It was really very social, networking and fun. We need to start having a little more fun in this town,” said the Louisiana Democrat, now a lobbyist at Van Ness Feldman, who said the occasion was intended to welcome Manchin into his new role as ranking member. 

“Everyone’s been a little touchy lately,” she said. “I know it’s hard because of the shutdown. It’s not a very funny time. There’s nothing funny about it. But every now and then you just have to relax and have a beer, glass of wine and just try to get along.” 

Attendees included Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.). Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp and National Wildlife Federation President Collin O’Mara also attended, as did staffers. 

Manchin and Murkowski spoke at the event about their mutual admiration and swapped stories, Landrieu said. 

“Joe told a really cute story about John Kennedy visiting his house when he was a kid and being one of the few Catholic families in West Virginia, and Lisa told a cute story about her family and … people just loved it,” she said. 

Landrieu, who as ENR chairwoman brought a widely different perspective to the job than most of her Democratic colleagues, said she thought there was “a great deal” of legislative common ground ahead for the committee, citing energy efficiency and conservation issues as areas of agreement. 

“Both are very committed to preservation of our natural resources,” she said. “Both come from high-production states, but they value our natural resources for recreational use. Joe is absolutely a born-in-the-woods kind of guy, and Lisa is a hiker, skier, fisherman. They’re both very outdoorsy people who value the outdoors, and I think there’s a lot that can be done based on just the essence of their character.” 

Landrieu also said she hoped Murkowski and Manchin could tackle climate resilience and the transition to a lower-carbon future, an issue that she noted spans multiple committees. 

“That’s one of the big issues before Congress, not just this committee,” she said. “It’s not to suggest this committee will be running it, but this committee will have a lot of input into that. I hope that these relationships grow to make big, big steps possible. It starts with a small step of trust.”

Source: Oil & Gas 360