The ideological divide over climate change widened this week in the Senate committee charged with shaping America's energy policy, setting the stage for a partisan showdown over the new Republican majority's plans to attack the Environmental Protection Agency, build the Keystone XL pipeline and drive fossil fuel expansion.
Democrats' replacement of three pro-fossil-fuel lawmakers with more pro-climate-action senators means that any across-the-aisle cooperation on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is probably dead, according to political strategists. While Republicans will control the panel 12-10 in 2015, Democrats could delay—or even potentially derail—the GOP's pro-fossil-fuels agenda by nitpicking bills during committee mark-up or by threatening a presidential veto.
"The GOP's appointments are evidence of the increasing desire within the party to roll back Environmental Protection Agency regulations," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist who served as an adviser on the 2008 McCain-Palin presidential campaign. "The Democrats' decisions were definitely calculated, defensive choices. They chose three of their strongest environmentalists...There will be some serious battles in the next two years."
Republicans named to the committee four newly elected senators who represent fossil fuel-driven electorates: Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Steve Daines of Montana and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. All four promised in their campaigns to fight for President Obama's climate action agenda, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency's strategy for regulating greenhouse gas emissions, known as the Clean Power Plan. Together, they pulled in more than $2.6 million in campaign contributions from oil and gas interests in 2014, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks election finance.
What happens in the Senate Energy Committee, as well as the Environment and Public Works Committee, will have a "direct and immediate effect" on the success of the party moving forward, O'Connell said.