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S&P podcast: 2020 election's implications for fracking, FERC and utilities

While Democratic nominee Joseph Biden and Republican President Donald Trump have different stances on fossil fuels, much of the demand for clean energy is being driven at the state and individual consumer level, where it may be difficult to reverse the momentum of a transition toward more renewables. But there are several ways that transition could be slowed or accelerated by the outcome of the election.

In the second of two podcast episodes on the election, S&P Global Market Intelligence's Energy Evolution team spoke with three energy policy experts about how the Nov. 3 contest stands to affect the oil, gas and utility sectors.

Lillian Federico, energy research director for Regulatory Research Associates, said many states are moving ahead with more aggressive portfolio standards in coordination with the utilities serving those jurisdictions.

"I don't mean to be glib about it, but it's almost as if it doesn't really matter what the administration does about a Clean Power Plan or a clean energy transition," Federico said. "At this point, the train is already traveling on down the track, really, without them."

Sarah Ladislaw, a senior vice president and director of the energy security and climate change program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said a Biden administration is likely to take a more aggressive approach to deploying new renewable energy, and would move to undo Trump's regulatory rollbacks. Some in the oil and gas industry may even support regulatory strictures in some areas, such as methane regulation, Ladislaw said.

Some of the "low hanging fruit" of a Biden administration might include taking aim at Trump's executive orders, which could be reversed pretty "early and aggressively," Ladislaw said.

Biden has indicated he may limit hydraulic fracturing on federal public lands while the Trump administration is opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. Four more years of Trump, however, would not guarantee a boost in output for an oil and gas sector that has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This idea that there's a huge amount more oil and gas production that needs to be coming out of the United States, you know, it is an open question," Ladislaw said.

Vacant seats on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which authorizes interstate power projects and regulates wholesale power markets, also offer a potential Biden administration a chance to influence the agency's agenda if elected. No more than three of the five members of FERC can be of the same political affiliation as the sitting president and it is currently made up of two Republicans and one Democrat.

Christine Tezak, managing director of research at consulting firm ClearView Energy Partners, said Republicans have favored a more strict approach to how state policies are integrated in the oversight of electric power markets and how policy initiatives are reflected in prices.

"We would expect that the current stance of FERC, which has been, according to some people, downright hostile to states wanting to decarbonize their portfolios, to [become] one that would be much more amenable to integrating those intangible policy objectives into the pricing structures in the restructured power markets than the current administration does," Tezak said.

Episodes of Energy Evolution are available on iTunes, Spotify and other platforms.