Congress is made of two bodies, the House of Representatives and the Senate. These two bodies, along with the responsibility passing legislation, have very distinct powers in the US system of checks and balances. The House is larger with 435 representatives with the number per state determined by state population who serve for two-years before they are up for re-election. The Senate is smaller with two senators per state, 100 senators total who are up for election after they serve a six-year term. Midterm elections were held earlier in the month to elect members of Congress, governors and other state representatives to serve in public office. Now that almost all of the votes have been officially counted and concessions made, the new and returning leaders will be sworn in on January 3rd. This election Republicans have 52 seats while Democrats hold 47 while one more race in Mississippi is hosting a run-off election to decide the last seat on the Senate’s fate. The House of Representatives has 232 seats held by Democrats and 200 seats held by Republicans while three more races have yet to be called. With the Republican party winning a larger majority in the Senate and the Democratic Party winning back the House of Representatives, how could these shifts affect environmental policy?
House and Senate Powers
The House of Representatives is known for having more control over the budget. They introduce revenue bills to be voted on, giving them more power over the purse than the Senate which can lead to negotiating over more topics. Now that the Republican party no longer has control over both the House and Senate, the Democratic Party will have more of a say over the budget, including discretionary spending. Energy and Environment is a category that receives federal funding each year. This funding goes towards energy efficiency grants, advancing batteries, defense cleanup and other environmental initiatives.
The Senate approves presidential nominations, watch investigation hearings and approve treaties with foreign countries. One large appeal of the Senate is that they can approve Supreme Court nominees. After the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh this summer to replace Anthony Kennedy , who was typically a swing vote on the Court, there is now a conservative majority. This can be important for upcoming cases such as the case of Virginia against companies who want to mine their uranium deposits that could contain $6 billion which has been outlawed since 1982 because of environmental and public health concerns. Due to conservatives traditionally siding with businesses over environmental concerns, the conservative majority could side on cases like this against wishes of environmentalists. The Senate also approves the appointment made by the President of who is to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA’s duty is to protect human and environmental health. So far during the Trump administration, the EPA has disbanded and repealed several programs and regulations. For example, they have disbanded a scientific air pollution review panel that consisted of 20 experts in that particular field that advises the agency about levels of air pollution and effects it has on health. This coming year, the panel will only consist of 7 members and only one independent researcher which conservationists worry will make it easier to reverse standards.
This election was a win for the environment in terms of more funding and clarity, however with Presidential and Senate control the environmental policies are likely to continue to be an issue for the next few years.