Commentators like to say that midterm elections are a referendum on the party in power. So, what do these results mean for climate and energy policy in the US over the next two years and beyond? 

While it was not the sweeping victory many conservative pundits had predicted, the Republican Party has taken over the U.S. House of Representatives. Their narrow majority still means the party will control committees and decide what legislation is brought up for a vote.  Given the party’s skepticism on climate science and criticism of past legislative efforts to lower emissions, it appears likely that any large-scale legislative action on climate change will not be passed for the next two years.    

CCS for you, CCS for me 

In addition to stopping most climate legislation, the new majority will shift the focus of key committees.  

The new Republican House committee chairs will look at ESG investing and the SEC’s proposed climate disclosure requirements.  The likely chair of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), has voiced concerns about the SEC requiring companies to disclose more climate-related information. In his view, the White House was, “pushing its climate agenda through financial regulators because they don’t have the votes to pass it in Congress.”  

While these developments are likely to be a headache for the administration and a good showcase for airing attacks on the disclosure rule, it is not likely that they will generate any significant legislative activity. The main reason for this is that efforts to go after the EPA and SEC will likely have trouble finding traction in the Democratic-run Senate. 

On the other side of Capitol Hill, things will stay the same as they were before the midterm elections. The biggest upshot of the continuing Democratic majority is probably that it enables the Biden Administration to keep getting appointees to the judiciary and key federal positions confirmed.  

If an energy bill is brought up, given the Republicans’ rhetoric on the campaign trail, we can expect that it will have measures to increase fossil fuel production. This is likely to not advance in the Senate, which the Democrats retained control of, given their recent legislative actions including the Inflation Reduction Act. 

However, there are areas where we could see bipartisan compromise on energy issues. The issue of permitting and approvals reform is one place that could unite Republicans, moderate Democrats, and the White House.  In addition, there is still strong bipartisan support for funding for carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.  While the process of crafting legislation is at its infant stages, both of these areas could provide the framework for an eventual deal.   

States of Play 

While we saw power change hands in the U.S. House of Representatives, at the state level, things remained largely the same.  In fossil fuel-producing states like Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico, the incumbent party stayed in power in key positions.  As a consequence, it is likely we will not see significant changes in policy regarding energy production or climate change.   

What we can expect from that is a mixed bag.  For example, in Pennsylvania, because the Democrats retained the governorship, that means Governor-elect Josh Shapiro will keep the state in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, unlike his opponent who opposed Pennsylvania being in the program.  However, this also means that the reelected Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will likely continue to challenge the EPA on climate-related actions.  

Where’s the action 

The day after the midterm elections, the Biden Administration announced plans to require federal contractors to set targets for slashing their greenhouse gas emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Reporting on the announcement, the publication Grist noted that the proposed rule, “could have wide repercussions throughout corporate America as the U.S. federal government is the world’s largest consumer of goods and services.” Under the rule contractors would also have to make their emissions public as well as detail the risks climate change poses to their business.   

In many ways, the timing perfectly illustrated how the executive branch, much more than the Congress or state governments, is likely to be the major focus of climate action in the U.S. for the next two years. These actions will take place in a number of areas.  

First, we could see more executive orders issued and current orders, like the SEC’s climate risk disclosure rule, being implemented. Perhaps the biggest impact on US climate policy over the next two years will be the administration implementing provisions of the Infrastructure Legislation and Inflation Reduction Act.  These measures respectively have $230 billion and $369 billion in climate-related spending and include provisions such as: 

  • $30 billion in tax credits for manufacturing solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and critical minerals processing 
  • $10 billion investment tax credit to build clean technology manufacturing for electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels  
  • $150 billion for clean energy advancement and adaptation to the effects of climate change 
  • $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations 

These measures help America move forward in the effort to lower emissions, but they alone are not enough to meet the 50-52% reduction in carbon emissions Biden pledged in 2021.  

Holding Serve 

Although nearly $16.7 billion was spent on state and federal midterm elections in 2022, aside from a narrow Republican majority in the House of Representatives, there was not a great political shift around the country.  For climate policy, it appears the public did not vote for sweeping changes in either direction. For now, one could take that as an endorsement of the status quo.  In practical terms that means President Biden’s program will continue to be implemented.   

Is that program enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement? If it isn’t, we are yet to see if American voters will be willing to call for more action on climate change in 2024 and beyond.  

The featured photo was taken from the Senate Democrats account.