Trump and a GOP Congress have chance to shape energy policy
Donald Trump’s election is generally viewed as a win for Alaska’s core resource industries, but whether or not it translates into better business in the Last Frontier will have much to do with his relationship with those on Capitol Hill.
Republicans unsurprisingly maintained control of the House after election Tuesday and also managed to hold serve in the Senate, if not by the slimmest of margins. As it stands, there are 51 Republicans firmly in U.S. Senate seats for the upcoming Congress.
The Senate Republican caucus is also expected to grow by one after a December run-off election in traditionally red Louisiana. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Va., has also not ruled out switching sides, which could give the GOP 53 seats.
Joe Balash, chief of staff to Sen. Dan Sullivan and former Alaska Department of Natural Resources commissioner, said Nov. 10 that the split between Republicans and Democrats often makes a significant difference in committee votes, “particularly in the budgeting process.”
He spoke to a crowd of Alaska Support Industry Alliance and Alaska Miners Association members at a joint breakfast meeting in Anchorage.
Having a Republican in the White House could also encourage red-state Democrats to break ranks on some issues, Balash surmised, as the need to toe the party line for the president’s sake is no longer there.
“The question is going to be: How much of the current administration’s agenda can be rolled back or reversed? And a lot of that really is going to be in the (Trump) administration’s hands,” Balash said. “To the extent that Congress needs to get involved, I think they’re going to find willing partners.”
Hopes that Congress will immediately pass legislation to open up the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling are likely a bit ambitious, particularly because it is unlikely the Senate Republican majority will dramatically change longstanding parliamentary procedure and “nuke” the filibuster, according to Balash.
But that doesn’t mean nothing will happen in regards to energy or general resource development policy.
Trump has already set expectations that his administration will reverse President Barack Obama’s signature Environmental Protection Agency regulations, the Clean Power Plan and Waters of the U.S., or WOTUS, rule. The comprehensive sets of regulatory changes — both finalized in the last 16 months — are currently held up in court after legal challenges by dozens of states.
Alaska was exempted from the Clean Power Plan, which outlines a strategy to cut carbon emissions from power plants by nearly one-third by 2030.
The WOTUS rule, however, could greatly impact Alaska resource projects and development in general, according to Alaska’s congressional delegation. Sullivan has led the delegation’s fight against the regulations that he says would greatly expand the EPA’s authority and add time and expense to projects in Alaska, which is half wetland.
Supporters of the rule contend it simply clarifies the agency’s existing presumed authority.
Indications from Washington, D.C., are that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, will release its much-anticipated five-year Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing plan any day. Publishing the federal lease sale plan in the Federal Register prior to Nov. 21 would allow for the requisite 60-day window for it to become final to pass before Trump takes office Jan. 20.
Rep. Don Young spokesman Matt Shuckerow said the congressman has heard concerns from Alaskans about other potential “midnight rules” coming down in the last days of the Obama administration.
The environmental regulations already put in place by the administration have cost Alaska jobs and established “an unworkable regulatory climate for new development,” Young said in a statement to the Journal.
“As the president prepares to leave office, there is serious concern that the next two months will be used to advance some of the most extreme and drastic regulatory policies,” Young said further. “Although I have little hope in this, I strongly encourage the president to heed the advice of his own 2008 transition team and Democrat majority, which called upon the Bush administration to halt the issuance of midnight rules and regulations.”
Balash also said Congress “neutered itself” in regards to budget items with its 2011 ban on earmark funding because specific appropriations have been left to the discretion of the agencies. Directly appropriating funds now requires a 60-vote majority in the Senate, he added.
Having Congress and an administration politically aligned with Alaska’s delegation could mean good things for the state in that regard.
“We’re uniquely positioned with the new Trump administration to affect a lot of things as far as Alaska goes. I think it’s going to be a good working relationship,” said Chad Padgett, Young’s state office director.
Balash doesn’t believe that relationship with the delegation will be challenged by October statements from Sullivan and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in which they called for Trump to step down as the party nominee after lewd comments he made in 2005 about how he treated women surfaced during his campaign.
Trump has been characterized as holding grudges, including against members of his recently adopted party.
“I’m not convinced that the worst parts of him portrayed are what we’re going to actually see in real results come January,” Balash said. “In fact, I think his history as a businessman, a property developer in New York City, would suggest that he can be quite pragmatic. And if he were to go down the road of not working with the (Republican) members of the Senate who either withdrew their support or challenged him — that’s a list of Republicans that gets you under 50 pretty quick, really quick.
“Unless he’s willing to embrace (Democrat Minority Leader Sen.) Chuck Schumer and (Democrat Sen.) Diane Feinstein I don’t think that is going to help him accomplish what he wants for the country.”
Even if Trump lets bygones be bygones Balash noted that it will undoubtedly take time for Western Republicans to get through to the New Yorker president how much their states are impacted by decisions made in Washington, D.C.
“It’s very difficult to expect him to understand the West and the relationship that people who live in the West have with the federal government. It is frankly foreign to the president-elect,” Balash said.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at email@example.com.