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Washington Week: US Congress reconvenes amid Iran-related oil price jump

U.S. lawmakers and federal regulators will be busy with energy-focused policies in early 2020 as global oil markets digest rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran and members of Congress are expected to resume a push to enact broad energy and climate change legislation.

Crude oil prices climbed in the wake of a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad on Jan. 2. The airstrike at the Baghdad International Airport killed Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian general who headed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Quds Force. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy leader of the Iran-backed Iraqi militia group called the Popular Mobilization Forces, was also reportedly killed in the strike.

The U.S. Department of Defense said the move was aimed at "deterring future Iranian attack plans" following the recent death of a U.S. defense contractor and the injuring of four U.S. service members during what U.S. officials claim was an Iranian missile attack on an Iraqi military compound.

The U.S. has also blamed Iran for protests in late December 2019 at the U.S. embassy in Iraq and for an attack on Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure and the shooting down of a U.S. drone in international waters earlier in 2019.

The recent upheaval is likely to spur reprisals from Iran, including potential targeting of regional shipping and energy production, that could further exacerbate tensions between the U.S. and Iran and put upward pressure on crude and LNG markets, ClearView Energy Partners said in a Jan. 2 research note.

More energy, climate bills on tap

Congress is kicking off the second session of the 116th Congress, which promises to feature the introduction of more bills containing energy and climate provisions.

Shortly before adjourning in 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a revised U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that would keep tariffs off North American oil and gas trade and avoid a more extensive permitting process for gas export projects.

Following House passage of the bill, the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance will hold a business meeting Jan. 7 to consider the legislation, setting it up for a full Senate vote in the days after.

Turning to other bills, leaders of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources have said they hope to introduce a broad energy package in early 2020 that could also contain lands-related measures. The energy portion of the package will likely include bills the committee advanced in 2019, including proposals to support the research and development of advanced nuclear reactors and energy storage.

In the Democrat-controlled House, top lawmakers on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce are expected to unveil draft proposals aimed at decarbonizing the U.S. power sector and other industries by 2050. That legislation would join a long list of climate bills introduced during the first session of the 116th Congress, including proposals to place a tax or fee on carbon dioxide emissions.

But the looming 2020 elections will limit time for considering sweeping energy and climate bills. Such legislative work could also be held up by an expected impeachment trial in the Senate centered on whether President Donald Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate potential 2020 White House rival and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Biden's son in exchange for the release of congressionally approved aid from the U.S. military and State Department.

White House to nix climate from National Environmental Policy Act reviews

The Trump administration is preparing to roll out a plan that would free federal agencies from having to consider the climate change impacts of oil and natural gas pipelines and other major infrastructure projects, The New York Times reported Jan. 3.

The White House's Council on Environmental Quality is expected to publicly release the proposed changes to its implementing guidelines for the National Environmental Policy Act on Jan. 7. Along with allowing agencies to no longer assess the climate impacts of certain projects, the proposed revisions will "narrow the range of projects that require environmental review," The New York Times said.

American Petroleum Institute to host state of energy event

The American Petroleum Institute will host its annual State of American Energy event Jan. 7 in Washington, D.C.

Speakers will include American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Mike Sommers, who will "discuss the natural gas and oil industry's top priorities for the year ahead and solutions to meet growing energy demand while addressing the risks of climate change," according to a release from the organization. Terry O'Sullivan, general president of the Laborers' International Union of North America, and Leslie Beyer, president of the Petroleum Equipment and Services Association, are also scheduled to speak at the event.

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US Congress
Jan. 7

The Senate Committee on Finance will hold an open executive session to consider H.R. 5430, The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement Implementation Act.

Jan. 8

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing titled "The Nonpoint Source Management Program Under the Clean Water Act: Perspectives from States."

Jan. 9

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment will hold a hearing on proposals for the Water Resources and Development Act of 2020.

Federal agencies
Jan. 6

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler and U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va., will hold an event in Fauquier County, Va., to announce a "cleaner trucks initiative."

Industry events

Jan. 7

The American Petroleum Institute will hold its annual State of American Energy event in Washington, D.C.

Jan. 8

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host Thane Gustafson, executive director of IHS Markit, to discuss his new book The Bridge: Natural Gas in a Redivided Europe. The talk will take place at the center's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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