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Congressional Republicans Consider Energy Agenda


Oil and coal companies are looking forward to having more allies in powerful positions next year. Republicans will be in control of both houses of Congress. In the Senate, incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is from the coal state of Kentucky. He opposes EPA plans to regulate carbon pollution from power plants. That is just one challenge President Obama's energy environmental policies will face in Congress next year.

NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Republicans have a long list of energy issues they want to take up. They tried under Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but he blocked them. One of the benefits of being in power is setting the agenda. At a post-election speech in Louisville, incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was clearly thinking about his agenda.


SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: We haven't had an energy bill in seven years. When you say energy these days, people think of the Keystone pipeline, but that's only part of it.

BRADY: The question over the Keystone XL pipeline could be a big one next year. Environmental groups want President Obama to reject the pipeline. The administration delayed a decision while Nebraska's Supreme Court rules on a legal challenge. Republicans want to bypass the president and approve the pipeline for the jobs and economic benefits it would provide. With control of both houses, they could pass legislation though probably not by a wide enough margin to withstand a presidential veto. Another big issue for the oil industry is lifting a four-decade ban on crude exports.

Jacob Dweck is an attorney representing companies that want fewer restrictions on shipping oil overseas.

JACOB DWECK: Well, I think the prospects for lifting the ban before the elections were slim to none. Now that the Republicans have taken over the Senate; in my view that's a game changer.

BRADY: Dweck says with GOP control and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski as chair of the Senate energy committee, exports likely will get more attention. There are some refineries that want to keep the export ban. It makes the crude they buy cheaper.

Jeff Peck is a lobbyist for them and while he's opposed to lifting the ban, he agrees the issue will get more attention in the next session of Congress.

JEFF PECK: If you search crude oil exports this time next year, you'll get a lot more hits than you had in 2014.

BRADY: As his clients prepare for that debate, environmental groups are defending one of their key accomplishments this year. The EPA plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. As minority leader, Senator McConnell tried introducing legislation to block those rules but failed. After he takes over next year, he can make sure a similar bill gets heard and voted on.

David Goldston with the Natural Resources Defense Council sees a silver lining to that.

DAVID GOLDSTON: The public and the media have been sort of shrugging off Congress, saying oh, they just don't get anything done.

BRADY: Goldston says now Republicans will start implementing their agenda in the political spotlight.

GOLDSTON: A lot of these will provoke, you know, very serious disagreements and probably vetoes from the White House and the public will now see that there are some stark choices to be made.

BRADY: After all, the 2014 midterm elections may have just ended, but the next big election is only two years away.

Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.
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