WASHINGTON — While much of Washington's attention is focused on looming budget cuts, immigration and guns, some members of Congress are also laying the groundwork for energy policies, and President Barack Obama is expected to address the issue Tuesday in his State of the Union speech.
Just last week, a House committee heard a panel of experts discuss record growth in domestic oil production, a Republican senator from Alaska unveiled an ambitious blueprint for expanding a range of energy sources, and the new chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources scheduled a hearing for this week on natural gas.
Some lawmakers also are pushing the Obama administration to approve the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline and sanction more exports of liquefied natural gas.
Whether agreements can be reached on the parameters for a national energy policy remains to be seen. The fact that the nation is enjoying a renaissance in domestic production won't alter long-standing divisions between those who favor more exploration on public land and those who fear the environmental consequences.
Obama told House Democrats that in his speech on Tuesday he would promote “an energy agenda that can make us less dependent on foreign oil but also … the kind of clean energy strategy that will maintain our leadership well into the future.”
That's essentially the same message Senate Republicans on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee make in their 123-page blueprint released last week.
The GOP senators advocate for more fossil fuel production but also try to incorporate more than the “drill, baby, drill” philosophy into their plan; it calls for more conservation and development of clean energy.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, the top Republican on the panel, told reporters, “We have made considerable gains in terms of our own energy independence to the point where it's no longer just a slogan that we're talking about.
“So we need to think about what it means to go from an energy discussion that's focused on scarcity to one that's focused on relative abundance and what that means for us as a nation.”
The approach, she said, should include developing domestic resources and dedicating a portion of the revenue to “energy solutions of tomorrow.”
“Climate change has to be part and parcel of what we're talking about,” she said.
That was an opinion emphasized by Rep. Henry Waxman, of California, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, at a hearing last week on the increased oil and gas supplies in the country because of the shale revolution.
“Every decision to build a new fossil fuel-fired power plant or construct a pipeline to transport tar sands or drill for more oil off our nation's coasts has climate risks,” Waxman said. “We need to understand and weigh those risks before we lock in infrastructure that will produce carbon pollution for decades to come.”
Last year, the president devoted a large portion of his State of the Union speech to energy, crediting the federal government with research that led to the shale gas revolution and hailing the fact that oil imports were the lowest in 16 years.
Obama also reiterated the position that has angered oil and gas industry leaders since the president first took office — that Washington should “end taxpayer giveaways to an industry that rarely has been more profitable.”
He may very well make the same point again Tuesday, since the White House has mentioned ending tax breaks for the oil and gas industry as part of deficit-reducing tax reform.
But, like many energy issues, there is a big partisan — and regional — divide on the issue.
The Senate Republican plan says it “defies logic” that tax hikes on the energy industry “should be among the goals of any rational energy policy.”