Energy Likely High on ‘To Do’ List

Nobel Prize winning physicist Niels Bohr once said, “Prediction is very difficult – especially if it is about the future.”

The beginning of a new year is the time we traditionally resolve to make the changes necessary to improve our lives. It is also the time we ponder what opportunities and challenges the new year will bring.

Nowhere is that truer than in Washington, D.C., where on Jan. 6 a new Congress convenes and on Jan. 20 the republic’s 44th president takes charge.


The 111th Congress – each Congress is two years long, divided into two one-year sessions – sees Democrats returning with significantly strengthened majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

In the House of Representatives, with four races still undecided at press time, Democrats have picked up 22 additional seats, bringing their total to 255 seats. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will continue to serve as Speaker of the House, while Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. James Clyburn (D-So. Carolina) continue in their respective posts as majority leader and majority whip.

House Republicans currently have a total of 176 seats. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) retains his post as minority leader, with Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) stepping up as minority whip and conference chairman. Outgoing Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) left leadership after the Republicans’ election defeat.

As House members gathered in Washington, D.C., in November to elect their leaders, one bit of drama involved the battle for chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Typically, these committee chairs are allocated according to seniority, and confirmed by a pro forma vote of the majority party. Current chair John Dingell is dean of the House, the longest-serving member. However, in a surprising upset, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) defeated Dingell, stripping him of this post.

Waxman in turn steps down as chair of the Oversight and Government Reform, where he has conducted vigorous oversight of government activity. He is widely regarded as a skilled legislator and is expected to play a significant role in advancing Democrat priorities on issues such as energy and climate as chair at Energy and Commerce.


In the Senate, Democrats picked up seven seats, which combined with the two independents that caucus with them gives them 58 seats. One Senate race (Minnesota) was still undecided at press time – but even with 58 seats, Democrats can dictate Senate action on most issues.

Senate leadership continues unchanged: Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Asst. Majority Leader/Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Vice Chairman of the Democrat Conference Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) all remain in their posts. Similarly, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Asst. Minority Leader/Whip John Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Republican Conference Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) will continue leading Senate Republicans.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) continues as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Fellow New Mexican Sen. Pete Domenici, the former ranking Republican on the committee, retired, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) takes his place.

In a mid-November 2008 speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Sen. Bingaman outlined six energy challenges facing the 111th Congress:

  • Deploying clean energy technology.
  • Improving energy efficiency.
  • Maintaining adequate supplies of conventional fuels as we make the transition to new forms of energy.
  • Increasing energy innovation.
  • Making energy markets more transparent.
  • Maintaining proper balance between energy and environment policies – especially as it relates to global warming.

These challenges will be a prime focus of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In his remarks, Sen. Bingaman said:

“Energy is not, in my view, an inherently partisan issue. If we care about our nation’s future, we need to look for the bipartisan, substantive and forward-looking approach to energy that has marked our successes and progress in the past.”


As President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office on Jan. 20 and delivers his inaugural address, he will lay out the priorities for his term. Based on his campaign and subsequent statements, it’s likely that the economy, energy and the environment will be high on the list.

These are not a simple set of challenges.

AAPG President Scott Tinker stated in a Dec. 5 letter to the President-elect these three issues are closely interlinked. Because of these linkages, policies in one area must be developed in concert with policies for the other areas.

Our new president and Congress should bear this in mind as they deal with these issues.

AAPG members can help shape the policy discussions we’re embarking on:

  • Tell the story of how you contribute to the affordable availability of energy that benefits your neighbors and community – and how you do it in an environmentally responsible manner.
  • Don’t focus on political rhetoric, because it’s always heated and typically uninformed. Instead focus on the details – the parts of legislation that no one is talking about.
  • If you are a U.S. member, tell your legislators to pursue Bingaman’s goal of a bipartisan, balanced approach to meeting the nation’s energy, environmental and economic needs.
  • Recognize that achieving bipartisan, balanced solutions necessitates compromise, and that no side is ever entirely satisfied because politics is the art of the possible.

As Bohr’s quote suggests, prediction is a foolish game. A far better idea is to shape the future into something worth experiencing.

It takes fortitude, stamina and a lot of hard work – kind of like keeping those New Year resolutions.

I wish you all the best in 2009.

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Washington Watch

Washington Watch - David Curtiss

David Curtiss served as the Director of AAPG’s Geoscience and Energy Office in Washington, D.C. from 2008-11.

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Washington Watch - Creties Jenkins

Creties Jenkins is a past president of the EMD.

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Washington Watch - Dan Smith

Dan Smith is chair of the Governance Board.

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Washington Watch - Peter MacKenzie

 Peter MacKenzie is vice chair of the Governance Board. 

Policy Watch is a monthly column of the EXPLORER written by the director of AAPG's  Geoscience and Energy Office in Washington, D.C. *The first article appeared in February 2006 under the name "Washington Watch" and the column name was changed to "Policy Watch" in January 2013 to broaden the subject matter to a more global view.

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