Its not your fathers Senate Energy panel anymore.
With former Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) retired and its jurisdictional issues driving the national debate, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee is going through rapid changes, lobbyists say, requiring a new approach to its leadership and a command of complex industries far beyond the traditional sectors.
Its no longer just a one or two calculus equation its a four or five variable equation one energy lobbyist observed. Were no longer just measuring the oil sector and the price of gas.
Although the panel is still dominated by lawmakers from sparsely populated but resource-rich states such as New Mexico and Alaska, lobbyists say Chairman Jeff Bingamans (D-N.M.) consensus-style management and wonky nature continue to keep lobbyists guessing.
Hired guns also say Bingaman, who assumed the committees gavel most recently last Congress, is also stressing environmental and consumer considerations in legislation, a far cry perhaps from the panels former parochial approach.
Scott Segal, a partner at Bracewell & Giuliani, said his job now entails finding common ground between the producer and the consumer of energy. He added that Domenici was a traditionalist, whereas Bingaman has always been a little more laid-back, more prone to building alliances than the Old Bull Domenici.
In the last several years, theres been a lot more concentration on the need to develop new and innovative ways to approach energy policy and thats on a national platform, Segal said. As energy policy has become a national concern, the ability to frame arguments that reflect both difficulty in producing energy as well as the effects on price and supply.
He added: Twenty-five years ago, you might have said, This is why producers need x, y or z.
Despite changes at the top, Segal also said both parties continue to work well together on the panel, typically setting aside partisan differences for the sake of the powerful interests back home. Members and staff alike, he said, tend to be well-versed in the panels arcane subject matter and just want to get stuff done.
Its definitely a committee that values substantive expertise ... oftentimes Senators that serve on that committee have a regional affinity for the issue that theyre dealing with, Segal said, adding that the committee has a very workable relationship between the Democratic and Republican sides.
The issues are more regional than partisan, he said.
The committees roster includes ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and James Risch (R-Idaho).
Jonathan Jones, a partner at Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart, said the panels staff is quite accessible, adding that they, too, are keeping up with the steep learning curve that new Democratic priorities require.
The staff has become just as knowledgeable on the renewable issues, which have become more national issues, Jones said. I have always found that theyre able to sit down and work out a solution for you.