Energy Lobbyists Already Planning For A Republican Controlled House Of Representatives

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While most of us here at CleanTechnica are positively giddy at how successful the Biden administration has been at promoting clean energy programs — such as the tax incentives for installing heat pumps — back in the real world, oil and gas companies are licking their chops and salivating at the prospect of a Republican controlled House of Representatives led by the despicable Kevin McCarthy.

If it should come to pass that the Senate also passes back to Republican control, watch for all these initiatives to come to a screeching halt overnight as America slides backward once more into a petro-state where fossil fuels are prized more than life itself. Not only could it happen, if the latest polling is accurate (it often isn’t), it almost certainly will happen.

Why? Because gas prices are too high. As Paul Krugman explains in the New York Times, “This year there has been a strong correlation between the price of gasoline and political polls. Earlier this year, when gas reached an average of $5 a gallon, everything seemed to point to a Republican blowout. By mid-September, with gas prices down almost $1.50, the election looked much more competitive. And some apparent recent deterioration in Democrats’ prospects coincided with an upward tick in prices in late September and early October.”

Krugman then goes on to explain why the party in power actually has very little control over the price motorists pay at the pump. However, all of us see the prices displayed everywhere we go, so we are acutely aware of increases, unlike the price of electricity, which is buried somewhere in the details of our monthly utility bill.

He concludes by saying, “It’s hard to think of a worse metric for judging a president and his party than a price determined mainly by events abroad and technical production issues here at home, a price that isn’t even high compared with, say, a decade ago. Yet gas prices may sway a crucial election, a fact that is both ludicrous and terrifying.”

Speaking strictly for myself as an unreconstructed and unapologetic liberal, I cannot help making a connection between choosing a reactionary to serve in Congress and a certain GEICO commercial that airs every year around Halloween.

Who Does The House Of Representatives Represent?

Here’s proof. Another New York Times article says, “Oil and gas industry lobbyists, anticipating that Republicans could take control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, are already working behind the scenes on Capitol Hill to push back against what they consider the Biden administration’s anti-fossil fuel agenda. The American Gas Association is helping to lead the charge, taking aim in particular at a program that encourages homeowners to replace furnaces and stoves that use natural gas with electric-powered devices in the name of fighting climate change.”

The objective is to undercut a $4.5 billion program that will give rebates worth as much as $14,000 per household to low and moderate income families to install heat pumps, water heaters, induction stoves, and other devices that would replace appliances that use natural gas.

“Republicans are expected to retake the House of Representatives, and they are champing at the bit to do some oversight to try to change the law where they can,” Allison Cunningham, the gas association’s top lobbyist, said at a conference in Minneapolis with other gas industry executives last month, according to a recording of the event the New York Times has listened to.

Representative Bill Johnson, a Republican congressperson from Ohio and a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House of Representatives, said in an interview that he had been discussing the issues with the gas industry and was eager to try to elevate them in the new Congress that convenes in January.

“We are supposed to be looking at energy efficiency, not social re-engineering,” said Mr. Johnson, who represents a part of rural southeastern Ohio that is a major source of natural gas. “This is an attempt by the [energy] department to pursue a rush to green agenda under the guise of efficiency standards.”

A rush to green agenda? Does Johnson have a functioning brain in his head? Is he aware that people in his area are suffering from more frequent storms, extreme heat, and punishing droughts that are directly linked to the burning of fossil fuels, or is he just a fossil fuel stooge who will do anything and say anything to keep the flow if campaign funds from the natural gas industry flowing, the health and safety of his constituents be damned? You decide.

The natural gas industry has been lobbying aggressively in support of legislation passed in at least 21 states that limits the ability of local governments such as New York City and multiple communities in California to imposing bans on the installation of gas appliances in new homes.

Lauren Urbanek, a deputy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has pushed the shift away from natural gas, said she was not surprised the fossil fuel industry was preparing to team up with Republicans in the House of Representatives to push back. “They are definitely not looking out for American consumers,” she said. “This is really about making sure they continue to exist as an industry.”

Telling Lies About Heat Pumps

Richard Meyer, a vice president at the American Gas Association, disputed the criticism, saying the rebate program is flawed because households can get money simply by buying electric appliances, even if they do not improve energy efficiency in their homes. The industry also argues that gas heat, particularly in very cold regions, can be less expensive on a monthly basis, an assertion that renewable energy advocates dispute.

CleanTechnica readers know that the latest heat pumps are fully capable of providing heat even in very cold climates. Another consideration is that the cost of electricity does not fluctuate wildly from month to month or ever week to week the way natural gas and propane prices often do.

The natural gas industry is also challenging a Biden administration proposal that would mandate tougher energy efficiency standards for natural gas-fired furnaces. Known as the Energy Conservation Standards for Consumer Furnaces, it would effectively ban new installations of traditional furnaces, which waste a significant amount of the natural gas they burn to make heat.

Energy efficiency is critical to addressing the inexorable rise in average global temperatures. One of the primary reasons to drive an electric car is that it converts up to 95% of the electricity in its battery into forward motion. A typical car with an gasoline engine is lucky to be 25% efficient.

The Energy Department argues that this furnace efficiency rule alone would save consumers $30 billion over three decades and eliminate more than 363 million tons of carbon emissions. The American Gas Association claims those estimate are wrong because they are based on “significant methodological and data flaws.” Translation — they are unfavorable to the industry. “The department is unlawfully promoting fuel switching,” the AGA argued in a comment letter sent to the  Department this month.

This is a version of the typical blather from reactionaries that the government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers in the commercial space, even if some of those losers are actively degrading the ability of humans to survive on the Earth. How dare those nefarious liberals care about humanity when there is money to be made!

Making Life Miserable For In The House Of Representatives

Passing legislation in the House of Representatives to block either the rebates or the furnace efficiency mandate is unlikely, according to Cunningham and Johnson. But House Republicans can make life miserable [think Benghazi and Solyndra here] by inundating administration officials with demands for documents and testimony.

There is almost glee in their voices, the Times says, when they discuss the possibility of helping draft questions for Biden administration officials, like Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “She has managed to dodge questions when she’s been before a Democrat committee chair,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an oil industry group. “I don’t think she’ll get that same treatment when the Republicans are in charge. She hasn’t really had her feet held to the fire.”

Raising questions about these programs is a way to put the Biden administration on the defensive, industry lobbyists said. “They are going to be looking for the next Solyndra,” Ms. Cunningham told the other gas industry executives at the industry conference last month.

The Takeaway

The reactionaries in Congress, especially in the House of Representatives, have made it clear they would rather promote the business interests of their major campaign contributors than the best interests of the people who elected them. If you think that sounds like corruption, you just don’t understand politics.

Especially since the Citizens United ruling the so-called Supreme Court, American government at all levels has been for sale to the highest bidder. That isn’t likely to change any time soon, even though the fate of the Earth’s environment hangs in the balance.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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