December 2023

Management issues: New U.S. House Speaker is strong supporter of oil and gas industry

If he can survive potential challenges from within his own party, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson could be a powerful advocate for oil and gas development.
Dr. Roger Bezdek / Contributing Editor
Fig. 1. U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.). Image: Official photo.

After 22 days of confusion, acrimony, and repeated failed nominees, Republicans in the U.S.  House of Representatives elected Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La., Fig. 1) as Speaker of the House on Oct. 25, 2023.  They had earlier voted out as Speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), so Johnson is now second in line in Presidential succession. 

Immediate criticism. Pundits immediately posed questions about the little-known backbencher, Johnson, not the least of which is who is he—Republican and Democrat House members even had to Google his name to find out about him. Concerns immediately arose: McCarthy was a prodigious fundraiser and recruiter, whereas Johnson has little experience doing either. By some media accounts, Johnson appears to have limited personal financial resources, including not even possessing checking or other bank accounts. He is very conservative and many centrist Republican Representatives, and those representing districts carried by President Biden in 2020, worry that he may negatively affect their re-election prospects and thus the chances of Republicans retaining the majority in the 2024 elections. 

Favorability among industry entities. However, little attention has been given to the fact that Johnson is a global warming skeptic and the most pro-oil-and-gas Speaker, ever. He has a solid record of supporting fossil fuels and oil and gas exploration and has the backing of energy groups. Not coincidentally, Johnson has received more money from oil and gas than any other industry. Johnson, whose district includes the one-time oil industry hub of Shreveport, La., received a 100% rating from the pro-fossil fuel American Energy Alliance in 2022, whereas he has a lifetime score of 2% from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). 

The Energy Workforce & Technology Council stated, “From our perspective, Speaker Johnson has been an ally to the oil and gas industry and could play a major role in changing the narrative surrounding the vilification of the industry.” The Independent Petroleum Association of America stated that it looks forward to working with the new speaker “on the issues that impact independent oil and natural gas producers across the country.” 

The furious opposition. While energy groups are pleased, environmentalists are furious and they abhor his opinions of wind and solar as being “inefficient and expensive sources of energy.”   For example, the Sierra Club contends that he has “extreme views on climate change and science” and is a “zealot,” “anti-science” and a “climate denier.” The Center for International Environmental Law disparaged him as “an avowed climate denier, beholden to the fossil fuel industry,” and stated “Giving Johnson a platform for his pro-oil agenda puts our collective future in greater peril.” The LCV contended that “Johnson has denied that climate change is a result of fossil fuels and polluters, and appears poised to continue to cater to Big Oil and Gas allies as Speaker.” 

Fig. 2. In leading legislative priorities in the U.S. House chamber, Johnson is likely to emphasize domestic energy production. Image: Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Legislative priorities. In leading the House, Johnson will prioritize domestic U.S. energy production, Fig. 2. He recognizes that fossil fuels are critical to U.S. energy needs and exports, and advocates that fossil fuel production be accelerated, rather than scaled back. Speaker Johnson has been an ally to the oil and gas industry and could play a major role in changing the narrative surrounding the widespread denigration of fossil fuel industries.  

For example, criticizing the Inflation Reduction Act as “green energy slush funds,” Johnson’s first major legislation passed among House Republicans eliminates or greatly reduces funding for Department of Energy clean energy and energy efficiency programs and defunds a national Climate Corps.  It also blocks funding for state net zero programs and tighter building energy codes and, crucially, prevents the government from factoring in the social cost of carbon in budgets and environmental reviews.  While this legislation is unlikely to pass the Senate or receive the President’s signature, it represents a starting point, as Republicans negotiate spending and a more reasonable approach to energy. 

Views on renewables. He criticizes renewable energy as being intermittent, unreliable, non-dispatchable, inefficient, and expensive, and is also a skeptic with regard to climate change. When congressional progressives proposed a Green New Deal, Johnson chaired a Republican Study Committee analysis that criticized wind and solar energy as an “impossible investment” that would usher in “a new socialist society in America.” Johnson has questioned human-caused climate change, saying, “The climate is changing, but the question is, is it being caused by natural cycles over the span of the Earth’s history? Or, is it changing, because we drive SUVs? I don’t believe in the latter. I don’t think that’s the primary driver.” 

This has obvious implications for U.S. energy and environmental policies and spending and indicates the possibility of major changes in U.S. energy policy priorities that could affect hundreds of billions of spending. Energy policy is obviously not going to change overnight with a new House Speaker, especially with a thin majority and a Democratic Senate and Executive Branch. Much remains to be done to reverse the energy policies of the last three years. But hopefully, Johnson will not allow U.S. energy security to be sacrificed in the name of climate change or a political agenda. Johnson’s actions thus represent a potential sea change in U.S. domestic and international energy policy and spending priorities. 

Keeping Republicans in line. However, there is a threat to Johnson’s Speakership:  His dilemma in trying to balance the demands from Republican House conservatives with keeping the government operating.  Johnson was able to prevent a shutdown in November without massive repercussions to his leadership – even though he was forced to rely on Democrat support for his funding measure.  More Democrats than Republicans voted for the bill, and 93 Republicans voted against it 

After former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was unseated for implementing a funding bill that relied on Democrat votes, House conservatives gave Johnson a pass for basically doing the same thing. However, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and other conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus are warning that they will not give Johnson another free pass. Roy stated that “Johnson’s concessions to Democrats, to pass a funding stop-gap lasting until January and February, are ‘strike one, strike two,’ putting the Speaker at risk of getting removed, if he cuts another deal that relies on Democrats to pass.” 

Never underestimate the ability of House Republicans to self-destruct. Ironically, the most pro-oil & gas Speaker, ever, is in danger of being unseated—not by Democrats or environmentalists, but by his fellow Republicans. 

About the Authors
Dr. Roger Bezdek
Contributing Editor
Dr. Roger Bezdek is an internationally recognized energy analyst and president of MISI, in Washington, D.C. He has over 30 years’ experience in the energy, utility and environmental areas, serving in industry, academia and government. He has served as senior adviser in the U.S. Treasury Department, U.S. energy delegate to the EU and NATO, and as consultant to the White House, the U.N., government agencies, and numerous corporations and organizations. He has written eight books, has published over 300 articles in professional journals, and his work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, New York Times, Time, Business Week, Science, Nature, World Oil, and other print and digital media.
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