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Oil Industry Now Set to Control Both Congressional Energy Committees

The Energy and Commerce Committee will be led by the House Republican who received the most money from oil and gas PACs.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers speaks during the House Republican Conference news conference in the Capitol on February 8, 2022.

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The House Republican who received the most oil and gas PAC money in the last election cycle is set to be the next chair of the House committee that oversees national energy policy. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) is expected to be put in charge of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in January when control of the House flips from the Democrats to the Republicans, after serving as the committee’s ranking member in 2021 and 2022. In addition to energy policy, the Energy and Commerce Committee conducts oversight and crafts bills impacting the oil and gas industry through its wide-ranging jurisdiction over policy areas including “environmental protection,” “clean air and climate change,” “safe drinking water,” and “renewable energy and conservation.”

McMorris Rodgers did not face a competitive Democratic challenger and did not need a large campaign war chest, but the oil and gas industry still donated more to her campaign in 2021-2022 than it ever had before.

McMorris Rodgers’ ascension to chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee means that the two primary congressional committees in charge of energy policy will be controlled by oil industry allies. The Senate Energy Committee is chaired by Sen. Joe Manchin, who was the top recipient of oil and gas industry money of any federal candidate in 2021-2022, despite having not been up for re-election that cycle. Manchin, who took a shotgun to Obama’s climate bill in a 2010 campaign ad, has frequently sided with his fossil fuel industry donors, including killing President Biden’s clean energy program proposal that would have imposed fees on power companies that fail to meet emission reductions targets. Manchin and McMorris Rodgers will control Congress’ energy committees just years before the 2030 deadline that United Nations scientists have identified for the world to halve carbon emissions in order to avoid worse climate-related droughts, flooding, and species extinctions.

According to OpenSecrets, McMorris Rodgers received donations from at least 40 oil and gas industry PACs in the 2021-2022 cycle, totaling more than $240,000. PACs are limited to giving candidates a maximum of $5,000 per election. Some of the oil and gas PACs that donated to McMorris Rodgers’ campaign over the past two years include those affiliated with ExxonMobil, Chevron, Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute, Transcanada USA, Energy Transfer Partners, Cheniere Energy, Halliburton, and HollyFrontier Corp. Several of these companies made additional PAC donations to McMorris Rodgers’ leadership PAC. Combined with donations from employees and lobbyists, the oil and gas industry donated $345,000 to McMorris Rodgers’ campaign and PAC over the past two years, according to OpenSecrets.

At an energy summit hosted by the Association of Washington Businesses days after the November midterms, McMorris Rodgers told attendees that she plans to pursue an “all of the above” energy policy approach, and that U.S. energy strategy needs to include fossil fuel production, according to Northwest Public Broadcasting.

One of the first bills McMorris Rodgers plans to call up before the Energy and Commerce Committee is a package that would authorize construction and operation of the Keystone XL pipeline and strip the president and federal agencies of their authority to restrict oil and gas permitting on federal lands. During the previous session of Congress, McMorris Rodgers was the chief sponsor of a bill with 146 Republican co-sponsors called the American Energy Independence From Russia Act that would achieve these objectives and more. McMorris Rodgers has also said that she plans to pursue legislation along the lines of the Manchin-Bennet energy infrastructure permitting reform proposal that would accelerate the construction of interstate energy projects by limiting environmental review procedures.

In recent interviews, McMorris Rodgers told reporters that with control of Congress divided and Republican legislation unlikely to become law, she plans to launch investigations of Democratic policies under her committee’s jurisdiction. She told the Washington Post in November that she will investigate the climate portions of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), warning against “a political agenda that is forcing a green energy transition that jeopardizes our reliability and increases costs.” In August, she called the IRA’s new funding for Department of Energy loan guarantees of clean energy projects “Solyndra on steroids.”

The Energy and Commerce Committee does not just deal with energy policy. It has the broadest jurisdiction of any authorizing committee in Congress, and it conducts oversight and writes bills impacting health care, food, internet, and telecommunications sectors, as well as dealing with all legislation relating to consumer protections or affecting interstate commerce.

For example, the committee has jurisdiction over proposals around lowering prescription drug prices. McMorris Rodgers has been critical of the drug pricing reforms that the Democrats passed into law in the IRA. “There is no pricing floor for the so-called ‘negotiation’ price, meaning health care bureaucrats could force a drug company to accept a figure as low as $1 or face up to a 95 percent excise tax,” she said in August of the bill’s provision allowing Medicare to negotiate price with drug companies. She also echoed drug industry lobbying group PhRMA in arguing that the bill would lead to fewer new medicines being developed. Among the many pharmaceutical company PACs that donated to McMorris Rodgers this cycle are Merck, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, and Abbott Labs.

McMorris Rodgers received more than $3 million from business PACs in the 2022 election cycle, according to OpenSecrets, more than any other House candidate. Business PACs are controlled by their corporate sponsors, but they are not funded by corporate dollars due to a prohibition in campaign finance laws. Instead, the money they donate to politicians comes from voluntary contributions made by employees and board members. In addition to pharmaceutical and oil and gas companies, some of the other industries that provided major PAC funding to McMorris Rodgers last cycle were insurance, telecom services, and electric utilities.

Oil companies, fossil fuel industry trade associations, and wealthy donors in the energy industry helped Republicans retake the House with record donations to the super PACs aligned with Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate GOP leaders, according to a Sludge analysis of contributions in the lead-up to Election Day.

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