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Energy not expected to become a 'big issue' in 2016 elections

Generatinginterest in energy issues on the campaign trail and in Congress will bedifficult in 2016, observers and legislators said at an April 13 event hostedby the American Petroleum Institute in Washington, D.C.

Sen.Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the U.S. would need to "hit a wall" inorder for energy to take the spotlight in the 2016 presidential election.

"Energy'snot going to be a big issue until people start getting rolling brown-outs andblack-outs," he said at the event, which accompanied the release of API's2016 energy platform. "Bringing Congress together seems almost impossiblebecause there's so much pressure from the outside."

FormerDemocratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, said that while she is supportingformer Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, she doesnot think the Democratic candidate can usher in an era of cooperation on energypolicy.

"Idon't believe that anybody, unfortunately, is strong enough, wise enough … tostraighten out Congress," she said. "I just think no matter who getselected we're in for a little rough patch."

Thattension, however, has not kept hydraulicfracturing out of the Democratic primary race, with Sen. BernieSanders calling for an outright ban and Clinton supporting stricterregulations. Manchin said that even though he understands Americans' concernsabout fracking, Sanders' position is untenable.

"Ifyou don't inject properly you can cause problems, but … there's proper waysthat cause no problems," he said. "[U]nless you're naked living in atree eating nuts … you use energy, and I think Bernie might be naked living ina tree."

HeatherZichal, a fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies anddirector on Cheniere Energy Inc.'sboard, said the industry itself is responsible for the national debate onwhether to ban fracking.

"Ithink the industry could do a better job, quite frankly, of communicating therisks and what they're trying to do to manage that, and that's why I think yousee this conversation about is banning the right way to go as opposed toworking on a regulatory suite of policies," she said.

Still,API maintained that the oil and gas industry has worked to decreaseenvironmental risks, and warned the U.S. government against takingcounterproductive measures.

"Thefederal government should not use direct or indirect means to limit theinnovations that have safely launched an energy revolution in the United Stateswhile reducing the environmental impacts of energy production," the group'senergy platform said.

Onenergy, Sanders has prompted Clinton to take stances further to the left thanshe might have been comfortable with, which may indicate little, if anything,about how Clinton might govern if elected president.

"Hillarythe president — if she is elected — seems much more likely to pivot,"Kevin Book of ClearView Energy Partners, a veteran observer of energy politicsinside the Beltway, saidApril 12. "Clintons are nimble rhetorical gymnasts. Pivoting is what theydo, and cornering them is hard. She may not somersault all the way back to pastlevels of pragmatism, but President Obama has already moved the oil and gasregulatory baseline to the green side of pragmatism in his last year."

TheU.S. Senate's sweeping energybill, meanwhile, remains bogged down. Although campaigns forupcoming elections have tightened Congress' schedule this year, there is talkthe energy legislation, known as the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016,may return to the Senate floor after lawmakers finish work on a must-pass billto reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. Debate on the Senate energybill, which contains sections on energy efficiency, infrastructure, supply,accountability and permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water ConservationFund, stalled in early February.