Care About Energy and Environment Policy? Watch These Eight Races

NEW EAGLE, PA - SEPTEMBER 24: A plume of exhaust extends from the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built along the Monongahela River, 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, on September 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pennsylvania. The plant, owned by FirstEnergy, will be one of two plants in the region to be shut down, affecting 380 employees. The Evironmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Obama administration have been taking major steps to get coal-fired power plants into compliance with clean air regulations. 
National Journal
Amy Harder
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Amy Harder
Dec. 31, 2013, 1 a.m.

For en­vir­on­ment­al­ists, the 2014 midterm elec­tions are about set­tling for the less­er of two evils. Sev­er­al con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crats up for reelec­tion in red states are fa­cing tough com­pet­i­tion, and if enough of these mem­bers lose, the Sen­ate could flip to Re­pub­lic­an con­trol. That would be the worst out­come for en­vir­on­ment­al­ists, who need a Demo­crat-con­trolled Sen­ate to de­fend against ef­forts to undo Pres­id­ent Obama’s cli­mate-change agenda and oth­er tough en­vir­on­ment­al policies.

For the fossil-fuel in­dus­tries, it’s more of a mixed bag. Many ma­jor en­ergy com­pan­ies are back­ing con­ser­vat­ive — and in­flu­en­tial — Demo­crats who cham­pi­on their cause. But at the same time, this in­dustry also gen­er­ally sup­ports the Re­pub­lic­an quest to take back con­trol of the Sen­ate.

When it comes to how the Sen­ate’s hand­ling of en­ergy and en­vir­on­ment is­sues could change in 2015, the trio of vul­ner­able in­cum­bent Demo­crats to watch the closest in­clude Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisi­ana, Mark Be­gich of Alaska, and Mark Pry­or of Arkan­sas. Here’s a roundup of those races and oth­ers you should watch.

Louisi­ana Sen­ate

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., faces what’s ex­pec­ted to be a tight race against the likely GOP chal­lenger, Rep. Bill Cas­sidy. Louisi­ana is one of the na­tion’s top en­ergy-pro­du­cing and en­ergy-con­sum­ing states, with oil and nat­ur­al gas provid­ing a back­bone to the eco­nomy. While the fight over Obama’s health care law may driver the lar­ger nar­rat­ive, ex­pect en­ergy to be im­port­ant to the ex­tent that deep-pock­eted en­ergy com­pan­ies opt to sup­port Landrieu over Cas­sidy. Her seni­or­ity in the Sen­ate and po­ten­tial to in­flu­ence en­ergy policy is already at­tract­ing more money to her cam­paign than Cas­sidy’s. On that note, she is also poised to be­come chair of the En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee some­time next year, which will give her an­oth­er power­ful tool to cam­paign on. If she’s not reelec­ted, ex­pect big changes on the com­mit­tee. Sen. Maria Can­t­well, D-Wash., is poised to chair the com­mit­tee if Demo­crats keep con­trol, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would chair if Re­pub­lic­ans get the ma­jor­ity.

Alaska Sen­ate

Sen. Mark Be­gich, D-Alaska, is like Landrieu in that he’s a mod­er­ate Demo­crat run­ning in a con­ser­vat­ive, oil-rich state. He’s con­sidered less vul­ner­able than Landrieu, though. The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port ranks this race as lean­ing Demo­crat, and doesn’t an­ti­cip­ate it be­com­ing quite as tight of a race as the Louisi­ana match­up. It’s un­clear who will be Be­gich’s GOP chal­lenger. Can­did­ates right now in­clude Joe Miller, who is known in Wash­ing­ton mostly for beat­ing Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, in her 2010 primary race, prompt­ing her to run as a write-in can­did­ate (and win­ning) in the gen­er­al elec­tion. An­oth­er pos­sible can­did­ate is Lt. Gov. Mead Tread­well. Cli­mate change, the im­pacts of which are felt more in Alaska than many oth­er parts of the coun­try, is also sur­fa­cing already in the race. Look for it to re­main a theme. The Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee fun­ded phone calls to voters in Au­gust that claim Be­gich sup­ports a car­bon tax, a charge he calls flatly un­true.

Arkan­sas Sen­ate

Sen. Mark Pry­or, D-Ark., rounds out the Demo­crat­ic Party’s trio of con­ser­vat­ive, vul­ner­able sen­at­ors up for reelec­tion in states that are red­der than they were six years ago. Pry­or’s race looks es­pe­cially tough for him right now be­cause of the pro­spect of his likely GOP chal­lenger, Rep. Tom Cot­ton, whom the Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port de­scribes as a “for­mid­able op­pon­ent” and a “rising star in GOP circles.” Pry­or is cur­rently the top Demo­crat­ic co­spon­sor of a mainly GOP-backed bill that would re­peal the re­new­able-fuel stand­ard, a top pri­or­ity of the oil in­dustry. While Re­pub­lic­ans need to pick up as many seats as pos­sible to win back the Sen­ate, in­clud­ing this one, oil com­pan­ies may want to have Pry­or stick around, giv­en his role in en­sur­ing that the bill is bi­par­tis­an.

Ken­tucky Sen­ate

The reelec­tion race of Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, R-Ky., is the ul­ti­mate di­lemma for en­vir­on­ment­al­ists. Over the past few years, Mc­Con­nell has led the GOP’s at­tacks on EPA reg­u­la­tions. He is now poised to face a close race against likely Demo­crat­ic chal­lenger Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes, the state’s cur­rent sec­ret­ary of state. Grimes, like most politi­cians in this coal-de­pend­ent state, vo­cally sup­ports the coal in­dustry and thus cri­ti­cizes most EPA reg­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing its plans to con­trol car­bon emis­sions. If Mc­Con­nell loses and Grimes wins, it’s a win for en­vir­on­ment­al­ists and lib­er­al Demo­crats in that they get Mc­Con­nell out of the pic­ture and help keep con­trol of the Sen­ate.

Col­or­ado Sen­ate — and maybe frack­ing, too

Sen. Mark Ud­all, D-Colo., seems poised to win reelec­tion next year, but his race — and state — are par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing on the frack­ing front. Amid Ud­all’s vo­cal sup­port of re­new­able en­ergy, he also gets sig­ni­fic­ant cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from the fossil-fuel en­ergy in­dustry. Out of all Sen­ate can­did­ates in the 2014 elec­tion cycle, he’s re­ceived the sixth-highest amount so far at $185,392, ac­cord­ing to Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion data com­piled by the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics. While stress­ing safety and strong reg­u­la­tions, Ud­all has con­tinu­ally said he sup­ports frack­ing, a drilling tech­nique key to the coun­try’s — and Col­or­ado’s — boom in oil and nat­ur­al gas over the past few years. Sep­ar­ate from Ud­all’s race, a statewide bal­lot ini­ti­at­ive that some­how lim­its frack­ing may come in front of Col­or­ado voters. Wheth­er this hap­pens — and the suc­cess of it if it does — could be em­blem­at­ic of oth­er statewide ef­forts to lim­it frack­ing, in­clud­ing in states like New York and Cali­for­nia.

Iowa Sen­ate

This is one of the few races where en­vir­on­ment­al groups are ac­tu­ally ex­cited about the Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate, Rep. Bruce Bra­ley, in­stead of just lik­ing the Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate less. Bra­ley has been a big sup­port­er of re­new­able en­ergy. He is also a strong sup­port­er of the re­new­able fuel stand­ard and has cam­paigned on the is­sue already this cycle. The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port pre­dicts this to be a lean Demo­crat­ic seat, in part be­cause Re­pub­lic­ans don’t have a clear, strong can­did­ate. Its primary race is ex­pec­ted to be crowded.

Geor­gia Sen­ate

In this open Re­pub­lic­an-held seat, Demo­crats are hop­ing to win with their pre­sumptive nom­in­ee Michelle Nunn, a State sen­at­or, whose GOP can­did­ate is un­clear giv­en the crowded Re­pub­lic­an primary con­test. If Nunn wins, this would make for an­oth­er Demo­crat com­ing to Wash­ing­ton who would be con­ser­vat­ive on en­ergy and en­vir­on­ment is­sues. Right now, though, the Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port ranks it a lean Re­pub­lic­an seat, which is open upon the re­tire­ment an­nounce­ment of Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Saxby Cham­b­liss.

Louisi­ana Gov­ernor

This is the only non-Sen­ate race on this list, but its out­come could in­flu­ence the Sen­ate. Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works rank­ing mem­ber Dav­id Vit­ter, R-La., is ex­pec­ted to de­cide early next year wheth­er he runs for gov­ernor, and strategists fol­low­ing the race say he’s likely to. If he wins, that shuffles the GOP lead­er­ship on the en­vir­on­ment pan­el, which over­sees such im­port­ant policies as EPA reg­u­la­tions and the re­new­able fuel stand­ard. Re­pub­lic­an Sens. John Bar­rasso of Wyom­ing, James In­hofe of Ok­lahoma, Jeff Ses­sions of Alabama, Mike Crapo of Idaho, and Ro­ger Wick­er of Mis­sis­sippi could all po­ten­tially take Vit­ter’s spot de­pend­ing on wheth­er Demo­crats or Re­pub­lic­ans end up in con­trol after the elec­tions.

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