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Factbox: New leaders of Senate panels to shift energy, climate focus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Republican controlled U.S. Senate means mean that key committees focused on energy, environment and budget will have new leadership with different priorities in the new Congress.

Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus have both indicated that a bill to pass the Keystone pipeline will top the Republican to-do list in 2015. The newly minted House and Senate chairs also will focus on oversight of agencies like Department of the Interior, which oversees drilling on federal lands, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Committee leadership is also expected to hold a wave of hearings on some key questions that will dominate Congress, including the debate over whether to lift the ban on U.S. crude oil exports and how to stop the EPA from implementing its sweeping regulations on power plant pollution.


Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski, 57, will take the gavel from Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu when the new congress convenes. Although Landrieu and Murkowski were on the same page on several energy issues, such as expanding energy exports and increasing production on public land, Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon said the committee failed to hold an Interior Department budget hearing under Landrieu’s leadership. Murkowski will conduct more oversight of the administration, Dillon said.

Murkowski is also expected to put a spotlight on the debate over whether to lift the ban on crude oil exports. As ranking member this year, Murkowski had kept up a steady drumbeat on the subject, starting with the release in January of a white paper on lifting the ban. She is expected to hold hearings on exports early in 2015.

Landrieu will have a December run-off for her Senate seat. If she loses, Washington State’s Maria Cantwell is expected to become the top-ranked Democrat on the energy panel.


Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, 79, who has called climate change a hoax and is ranked one of the most conservative members of Congress, has said he will take the gavel of the Senate EPW committee, which he also led from 2003 to 2007.

Inhofe would take over after a campaign season during which environmental groups spent heavily on candidates who pledged to protect President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan, a strategy based on executive orders mandating mandatory limits on carbon emissions. Industry groups also spent heavily, on candidates who opposed those mandates.

Inhofe is likely to call hearings to debate the science behind climate change, and scrutinize the EPA budget as it works to finalize its proposal to limit carbon emissions from power plants. He will also push back against the EPA’s forthcoming ozone limits and any potential attempt to regulate methane from oil and gas production.

California’s Barbara Boxer is expected to remain the environment committee’s top Democrat.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, editing by Ros Krasny and David Gregorio)

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