Saint Teresa of Ávila, a 16th century Carmelite nun, said: “Answered prayers cause more tears than those that remain unanswered.” So, there’s precedent for concern that the “new tone” in Washington politics that everyone has for years said they want might end in tears. Yet it might be coming.
For energy lobbyists, The Senate Energy Committee is a leading indicator for changes in tone, and it’s rarely been more promising if a better tone is indeed what we want.
The Committee may actually get to work on bills that have been in deep frost for 15 years or so–especially the long-awaited U.S. Energy Policy bill. An Energy Policy would give some certainty to alternative bio-fuels, hydrogen, solar, wind, natural gas, oil and coal industries, not to mention automobile and electrical utilities. Each passing month seems to bring an entirely new set of policies from Washington that contradict existing policies. For example, no sooner do electric utilities face up to enormous costs of refitting their coal-fired generators to meet hyper-strict limits on particulant emissions suggesting a smaller role for coal in the future, then President Obama announces that the coal industry will have a central place in the U.S. energy market of the future. What, exactly, does Washington want?
Now there is some hope that more direction will be given. In the Senate, leadership changes are ushering a shift to greater pragmatism. After January, the panel will be run by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Wash., who worked with Republicans on healthcare and other thorny subjects. He replaces Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who was slow to understand Republican priorities and unable to move legislation through the closely divided Committee.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, (R-AK), who leads the Republican side, has won admiration with her ability to be thoughtful, principled, diplomatic and still tough. She would make a good Energy Secretary in the event that Romney wins the White House, given that GOP’s prospects for taking the Senate to a majority seem hard to peg.
Newer GOP Senators are also showing a pragmatic tone in what they say, if not how they vote. The panel includes Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. As we said, The November 6 election will determine whether Murkowski or Wyden obtain the chairmanship. But in a more workmanlike atmosphere, it may not matter…
On the other hand, it may be that Washington is better off without an energy policy (the tears brought on by an answered prayer). Indeed, there are those on Capitol Hill and in the lobby who feel the best thing Congress can do is absolutely nothing. That would be the only way of giving energy investment a steady (if not fair) playing field for planning future cap-ex.