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Welcome the 112th Congress: Energy and Environment Edition 112th Congress: Energy and Environment Edition

What to watch for in energy and environmental policy as the 112th Congress convenes.

The 112th Congress officially kicks off at noon today, and with new GOP leadership in the House and a slimmed down Democratic advantage in the Senate, it's clear that legislation of energy and environmental issues will be taking a new course.


Here's a roundup of where things stand on energy and environment.

Always a Bridesmaid: Putting energy and climate after health care? Sound familiar? Democratic leaders in House and Senate famously put health care first in 2008 and 2009, and the ultimate fizzle out of the Senate's energy and climate bill was the result. Now, it looks like Republicans will be immediately targeting that same health-care bill that Democrats prioritized, before moving on to energy issues. Of course, they'll be focused on energy and environmental oversight, and not passing a comprehensive economy-wide cap on carbon emissions. Expect the EPA and the Department of Interior's administrative authority to be severely challenged.

Showdown at the EPA: Just before Christmas, the agency announced its long-awaited plan to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Almost immediately, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced his intention to prevent that from happening. "We will not allow the administration to regulate what they have been unable to legislate," calling it a "Christmas surprise [that] is nothing short of a backdoor attempt to implement their failed job-killing cap-and-trade scheme."

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson obviously disagrees:

"We are following through on our commitment to proceed in a measured and careful way to reduce GHG pollution that threatens the health and welfare of Americans, and contributes to climate change...These standards will help American companies attract private investment to the clean energy upgrades that make our companies more competitive and create good jobs here at home.”

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As the judicial procedure currently stands—after a long, convoluted series of lawsuits and appeals—the EPA actually has the legal responsibility to consider whether greenhouse gases are a "public danger." In December, 2009, the agency announced the "endangerment finding," which Jackson once told me was perhaps the best and most comprehensive collection of climate science yet assembled. Since then, the administration has been wielding the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as a hammer, hoping that the threat would get legislators moving on a cap-and-trade bill. Now that that's fizzled, it looks as though the administration will try to move forward with the regulation, while industry and moderate-to-conservative policymakers will try to figure out how to stop them. Upton has already hinted as using some pretty obscure tactics—like something called a "resolution of disapproval"—to block action.

Kate Sheppard has a great take on how that battle could play out. Stay tuned, as this will surely be one of the chief enviro-political dramas of 2011.

Upton Before Issa: Fred Upton (see above) will be the first wave of GOP attack on energy and environmental regulation. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who you may remember as the guy who quoted Genesis to dismiss the threat of global warming, has been outspoken in his intentions to use his position as chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to combat regulation. But a sneak preview of Issa's list of initial investigations is notable for what it's missing: climate change. So it seems that Energy and Commerce will be the first battleground for energy and climate, but don't rule Issa's Oversight Committee out for too long. (It was just revealed that Issa sent a bunch of corporations a letter asking them, essentially, which regulations they would rather live without.)

It's also worth noting that Upton has recently shifted his position on climate change, declaring as recently as two years ago that "climate change is a serious problem that necessitates serious solutions."

I Know What You Did Last Session: Speaking of flip-flopping. Darren Samuelsohn writes in Politico about the "green skeletons" that lurk in the closets of many now-outspoken GOP opponents to climate action.

Science on Trial: We'll likely see some public hearings on climate science, perhaps in Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner's (R-IL) Science Committee. While many fear these as some combination of witch hunt and disinformation firehose, with non-credentialed, climate denying "experts" standing shoulder to shoulder with true climate scientists, the president's chief science adviser, at least, sees a possible upside.

Attack of the Climate Zombies: Read Brad Johnson on this. He's got all the scary stories you need about these climate science-denying politicians who "plan to send the United States back to the Stone Age with respect to climate policy." It isn't pretty.

Who's Who in Upper Chamber Energy: Politico has a good roundup of the 10 senators to watch on energy this session. Included: Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM).

Death of Select Committee: The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming is no more. Chaired by Edward Markey (D-MA), new Republican leadership in the House has opted not to extend its mandate. The panel issued its final report yesterday. The report concludes:

Someday, our children and grandchildren will look back on the record of the Select Committee. That record will reflect a respectful and rigorous debate and an unprecedented understanding of the challenges before us. Whether or not they will see that this generation has taken the bold action required by these challenges remains to be seen.

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Finally, if you're looking to learn more about the new members of the 112th, OpenSecrets is the place to start. They've got all the new members listed here, with links to their individual pages featuring donor and campaign contribution figures, so you can find out where their bread is buttered.

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