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Tight races for US Congress have big implications for energy

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Several lawmakers with sizable roles in Congressional energy policy are locked in tight races for the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

The outcome of those contests could affect a range of energy-related issues, from leadership on hydropower development to efforts to address climate change.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., is in a close race against Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell to represent Florida's 26th congressional district near Miami. Florida is at the forefront of states threatened by rising sea levels and climate-related storms, and its 26th congressional district is one of the hardest hit by the impacts, making Curbelo among the most active House Republicans on the issue.

In 2016, Curbelo co-founded the House's Climate Solutions Caucus, the first bipartisan caucus in Congress focused on climate change. More recently, he introduced legislation to create a $24/tonne tax on carbon dioxide emissions from all fossil fuel combustion sources starting in 2020; in exchange, the bill would limit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources under the Clean Air Act.

Mucarsel-Powell also has called for efforts to combat climate change, dubbing Florida "ground zero" for storms, increased flooding and other related effects. But a loss for Curbelo would remove one of the GOP's biggest climate action advocates from the House as bipartisan consensus on the topic remains elusive.

However, even if Curbelo loses, his supporters say other GOP lawmakers could pick up the fight to find common ground with Democrats on climate change.

"The roster of House Republicans who are actively pursuing climate change solutions has grown significantly [since 2014]," said Tony Kreindler, senior director of government relations at EDF Action, the political advocacy arm of the Environmental Defense Fund. "Curbelo and his colleagues have started a big snowball rolling, and I don't see it slowing down."

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Incumbent U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., is in a tough race for re-election.

Source: Associated Press

Turning to the U.S. Senate, another close Florida race could have implications for climate policy in Congress. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is locked in a tight race with GOP Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Both Nelson and Scott have moved to block oil and gas drilling off Florida's coasts.

But Nelson has been a big proponent of policies to address climate change, while Scott has been less vocal on the issue, which he excluded from his campaign web page on environmental priorities. Environmental groups have pilloried Scott for his work as governor to gut key pieces of a Florida law stemming from H.B. 7135, which required state agencies to develop frameworks for a renewable portfolio standard and a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program. In 2012, Scott signed into law a bill repealing the provisions of H.B. 7135 that required the state to form a cap-and-trade regulatory program.

The coal industry meanwhile will be watching neck-and-neck Senate contests over the right to represent key coal-producing states. But industry supporters expect whoever wins those elections to continue backing the coal sector.

U.S. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., moderate Democrats who have supported policies to protect coal-fired generation and develop and deploy carbon capture and sequestration technology, also are up for re-election. Although CCS proponents said they would miss Heitkamp and Manchin if either loses in November, the senators' GOP competitors U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, respectively also are strong coal supporters who have fought to repeal regulations that would hurt demand for that fuel.

Another Senate race that could be meaningful for coal and energy is the one between current U.S. House member Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat. Blackburn and Bredesen are competing for the Senate seat now held by Republican Bob Corker, who has declined to seek another term.

During her time in the House, Blackburn has proposed curtailing the EPA's budget and raised concerns over the retirement of U.S. coal-fired power plants. For his part, Bredesen supported growing reliance on renewable resources as Tennessee's governor, backing a U.S. congressional resolution in 2007 calling for the U.S. to get 25% of its energy from renewable resources by 2025.

Bredesen also moved to block surface coal mining on certain public lands in Tennessee while governor.

More House races to watch

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., a long-time champion of hydropower development who represents Washington state's 5th congressional district, is defending her seat against Democratic candidate Lisa Brown.

McMorris Rodgers chairs the House Republican Conference, making her the fourth highest-ranking Republican in the House. She also serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and founded the Congressional Hydropower Caucus.

Brown similarly has called for moving the economy toward a greater reliance on clean energy sources, including wind and solar power. But a defeat for McMorris Rodgers could slow momentum on legislation aimed at easing hydropower permitting, even after several reforms to speed up hydropower licensing were signed into law Oct. 23 as part of a massive water infrastructure bill.

"Rep. McMorris Rodgers has been one of the top advocates for clean, renewable hydropower," National Hydropower Association spokesperson LeRoy Coleman said. "Coming from the state that leads the nation in both [hydroelectric] capacity and generation, her leadership has been critical to hydropower's legislative gains."

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U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., shakes hands as she walks in a Fourth of July Parade in Johnson, Wash.

Source: Associated Press

In other key House races for energy, incumbent GOP Rep. Peter Roskam is running against Democratic candidate Sean Casten for Illinois' 6th House district.

Roskam, who has been one of the American Public Power Association political action committee's biggest recipients of campaign funding this election cycle, is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which helped craft the GOP tax bill signed into law in late 2017. The utility industry largely was pleased with the legislation, which preserved most key deductions for the power sector and will allow investor-owned merchant generators to fully expense new equipment and other assets through 2022.

In terms of environmental policy, Roskam has voted in favor of legislation to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act. He also backed resolutions to repeal many Obama administration environmental policies for the energy sector, including the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's rule to limit methane emissions from oil and gas operations on public lands.

For his part, Casten is an advocate for regulations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and has called for forming a national "Fossil Energy Reduction Standard" that would require an increasing percentage of power to come from resources not powered by fossil fuels.