Democrats control the House. Now what?


The “blue wave” that swept the U.S. House of Representatives tonight is good news for clean energy. A party that mostly supports progressive energy policy now controls the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committee, and some of the more outspoken champions of a rapid transition to renewable energy will take seats in the 435-member body.

These politicians come from different ideological backgrounds. On the Left, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose platform calls for a “Green New Deal” and a transition to 100% renewable energy by 2035, easily won a set representing the Bronx. Likewise Ilhan Omar, who is also calling for a move to 100% renewable energy as part of an Left-leaning program, won in Minnesota.

For those who prefer more mainstream technocrats, clean energy wonk and entrepreneur Sean Casten will take office in Illinois’ 6th district. Overall, roughly half of the more than one dozen candidates endorsed by Climate Hawks Vote won seats.

But while the victories of these candidates – many of them outsiders – may be dramatic, the expected leaders of key committees in the 116th Congress are decidedly less so. The Democratic victory means that long-time Congressman Frank Pallone will likely return as chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, but this committee is unlikely to take as strong of stands as it did in the first years of Obama’s presidency.

The same can be said of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, where Congressman Richard Neal is poised to become chair. As such, the calls for dramatic federal action on renewable energy which have been made by Ocasio-Cortez and others are no more likely to sway a fairly cautious Democratic leadership in the House than Bernie Sanders has in the Senate.

And while Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is a shoe-in for House Speaker, may at times be more outspoken on climate change and energy issues, she also has to contend with the fact that the Democrats only control one of the two chambers of the legislative branch.

Dylan Reed, the head of congressional affairs at Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) suggests that Democrats are likely to look for more moderate legislation which will attract bipartisan support.

“There is an opportunity for an infrastructure package,” Reed told pv magazine. He says that in particular bills to fund more expansive transmission build-outs to support renewable energy could be on the table.

He also spoke positively of efforts to build-out electric vehicle (EV) charging networks, including the possibility of further tax incentives for EVs.

And as has long been the case the real action is likely to remain at the state, not the federal level.

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