5 Things to Watch With Mary Landrieu as Energy Committee Chairman

03 26, 2014 by By Amy Harder, Wall Street Journal PHOTO: WSJ

As Mary Landrieu, the new chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, holds her first hearing on Tuesday, it will be clear that the Louisiana Democrat is decidedly more pro-fossil fuel than her predecessor, Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), and that she is planning to shift the committee in that direction. Here are five ways you know there’s a new gavel in town.

1 It’s all in the name.
The title of a hearing often shows its tilt, and the title of Tuesday’s hearing, which is Ms. Landrieu’s first with gavel in hand, is “Importing Energy, Exporting Jobs: Can it be Reversed?” Ms. Landrieu is a big supporter of energy exports and is going to make that a defining part of her chairmanship. Contrast that with the title of a similar hearing on natural gas Mr. Wyden, who is much more cautious on energy exports, held in February of last year: “Opportunities and Challenges for Natural Gas.”

2 Keystone XL can always be somehow relevant.

Ms. Landrieu told a group of oil and natural gas executives in Louisiana last week that “we’ll be advocating Tuesday morning for the permission, the permit for the Keystone pipeline.” Tuesday’s hearing isn’t about this controversial project, but Ms. Landrieu is expected to mention it in the broader context of America’s oil and natural gas boom. Mr. Wyden does not support the pipeline and mostly avoids talking about it unless prompted.

3 Environmentalists have a tougher sell.

Tuesday’s hearing makes it abundantly clear that the environmental movement does not have a strong ally with Ms. Landrieu, at least when it comes to energy exports. No environmentalist is testifying at Tuesday’s hearing. Several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Earthjustice, oppose natural-gas exports on the grounds that they oppose further dependence on any fossil fuel, including natural gas. In Mr. Wyden’s hearing on natural gas last year, Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, testified. Ms. Landrieu’s office has noted that Tuesday’s hearing is not about the environmental aspect of the fuel.

4 Ms. Landrieu made the most exclusive list in town.

That would be the short list of U.S. officials whom Russian President Vladimir Putin sanctioned last week. It’s likely she was sanctioned because she chairs the committee and is a vocal supporter of increased oil and natural-gas exports, which is a key sector of Russia’s economy. Expect Ms. Landrieu to talk this up at the hearing Tuesday.

5 The hearing room becomes a platform.

On top of being one of the most fossil-fuel friendly Democrats in Congress, Ms. Landrieu is also considered one of the most at-risk Democrats up for reelection this year in the Senate. Alongside her on the energy committee is another potentially vulnerable Democrat up for reelection, Sen. Mark Udall (D., Colo.), who has recently become much louder in calling on the Obama administration to speed up its approval of natural-gas exports. Expect Tuesday’s hearing to be one of the best chances for both of these senators to showcase their political support for energy exports—with a nod to their voters back home.
45% The current probability that Sen. Landrieu wins re-election in November, according to Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.