Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The House’s coming change in direction

That chill the Obama administration felt in Washington on Nov. 3 was more than a cold front approaching from the west. It was the realization that Republicans regained control of the US House in the previous day’s elections, and the direction of the Natural Resources and Energy and Commerce committees is going to change 180 degrees in January.

Expect Joe Barton (R-Tex.) to look more critically at proposals to manage global climate change than Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) did in his two years as Energy and Commerce Committee chairman. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) almost certainly will be more receptive as chairman to complaints by the Natural Resources Committee’s western Republican members that US Department of the Interior agency policies are stifling oil and gas development than Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.) was.

Among Natural Resource subcommittees, Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) is in line to succeed Jim Costa (D-Calif.) as chairman of Energy and Mineral Resources. Costa lost his re-election bid, which is unfortunate. He tried to run the subcommittee reasonably while he was in charge and could have helped develop bipartisan legislation in the next Congress. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) won his re-election bid, which means he’ll be back not only as one of the more vocal Republicans on the full committee but also as chairman of the National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Subcommittee.

Stevan Pearce (R-NM) also will be returning after regaining his House seat which he vacated in 2008 for an unsuccessful bid to succeed retiring Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-NM). Pearce often acted as a one-man truth squad when he asked oil and gas opponents often embarrassing questions during hearings. He’s probably looking forward to doing so again. Democrat Martin Heinrich held onto New Mexico’s other House seat, which he won in 2006 when Tom Udall was elected Domenici’s successor.

Over at Energy and Commerce, Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is in line to succeed Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) as chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee. Markey also stands to lose his bully pulpit as chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming because House Republican leaders probably will dissolve it. It’s a safe bet that he’ll continue speaking out on climate issues, however.

Another significant change will take place at the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where ranking minority member Darrell E. Issa (R-Calif.) is in line to succeed Adolphus Towns (D-NY) as chairman. Issa was a bulldog when he demanded a fuller accounting by what was then the US Minerals Management Service in 2005 and 2006 of alleged offshore oil and gas royalty underpayments. Many expect him to launch several investigations once he takes over in January.

“Tonight was a referendum on the Obama agenda and the American people rejected it,” he said late on election night. “The American people have sent a clear and direct message to Washington that they want less spending, limited government and more accountability. The mandate is clear: Advance an agenda that will create real jobs – not government jobs – but real jobs to get our economy moving again. Reduce the footprint of government in our lives, get government to live within its means, and make government more transparent and accountable.”

It’s always possible, however, that if House Republicans decide to heavily restrict funding in the next Congress for programs enacted by this one that they do not like, Democrats will make it a 2012 election issue – especially if it involves hiring more inspectors and auditors to improve enforcement at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.


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