Energy lobbyists prepare for Biden, despite Trump’s refusal to concede

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Not every Republican lawmaker has publicly acknowledged that Joe Biden won the presidential election as President Trump refuses to concede. But trade groups often aligned with the GOP have already come to grips with the power change coming in Washington. 

Over the last several days, representatives from manufacturers, coal-mining companies, oil producers and other industries have congratulated the president-elect on his victory – and signaled they are interested in helping shape Biden’s plans to tackle climate change. 

Biden’s proposal to spend $2 trillion over four years to reduce emissions while creating jobs was written in coordination with environmental activists and labor unions, and now companies want a seat at the table.

“There’s likely to be a difference between what the campaign proposal was and what we see in legislation,” said Marty Durbin, president of the Global Energy Institute at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the nation’s largest business lobbying groups.

Industry representatives are more wary of a Biden presidency than they are of the current one

Many trade groups have spent the past four years cheering on the Trump administration for rolling back more than 125 environmental rules and policies that made it harder for them to do business.

But they believe they can persuade Biden, a centrist Democrat who often seeks compromise over confrontation, that the goods and services they produce are necessary for a healthy economy. 

The National Mining Association noted in its congratulatory statement for Biden, for example, that the minerals the industry mines are used in solar panels and electric vehicles — two things Biden wants to see more of during his time in office.

The trade group, which represents both coal and ore mining firms, has worked closely with Trump and other Republicans over the past four years, repealing a rule protecting streams from mining pollution and hosting a meeting at Trump International Hotel in Washington during his first year in office.

But Rich Nolan, NMA’s president, said in an interview his industry can work with any administration. “To be clear, we’re not a Democrat or Republican party, we are the party of mining,” he said. 

Companies hope Biden’s win can break gridlock in Congress — and open up government coffers.

During one of the several “Infrastructure Weeks” under Trump, the American Trucking Associations helped bring big rigs to the White House lawn. That 2017 meeting led to memorable pictures of Trump sitting in a semi. But it never culminated into sweeping infrastructure legislation the president promised.

Now Chris Spear, head of the trucking trade group, is hopeful that Biden’s win makes passing an elusive infrastructure bill more likely. “Trucking’s story speaks to all of America, not one specific political party,” he said.

Durbin, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive, said it will fight Biden on parts of his climate proposal, including plans to restrict oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters. But he is also “absolutely” prepared to push normally stingy Senate Republicans to boost infrastructure spending that could give the Chamber’s members more business with the government.

“You may see something very soon calling on every member of Congress and senator to make a commitment to getting something done on infrastructure as quickly as possible,” Durbin said, noting he agrees with Biden on the need to update the electric grid to accommodate solar and wind energy and harden roads and other structures for rising seas and other climate effects.

Biden and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) have worked which each other for decades. But it’s not yet clear Biden’s win will make congressional Republicans more willing to cooperate with Democrats. On Monday, McConnell backed Trump’s efforts to contest his loss to Biden, despite the lack of evidence of significant fraud in voting.

Big Business also hopes Biden can cool down trade wars with China.

Mike Sommers, the head of the American Petroleum Institute, hopes that Biden eases tensions with China so that his organization’s members can sell liquefied natural gas across the Pacific. “Despite, I think, a theme that the industry has been benefited by the Trump administration, on the trade side we would hope for a partner in the Biden administration,” said Sommers, who was once an aide to former Republican House speaker John A. Boehner.

Nolan, the mining executive, said Biden is already on the record stressing the need for mineral production to keep pace with China. “The Chinese are way ahead of us, setting a price and driving the market. We got to get ahead of this. People get it.” 

The road to the White House went through mining communities in Arizona, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Nolan said, and his team of policy wonks engaged Biden and Kamala Harris, now the vice president-elect, when they visited those states. “When those candidates are on the road they pay attention and that’s an opportunity for us to engage at the grass roots level.” 

Trump had an open-door policy that gave mining companies a voice. He also provided relief from taxes and regulation that increased their revenue. That was very different from the Obama approach, Nolan said, and miners will fight to protect what they have. 

“I think in the case of vice president Biden, he’s a very different man” from Obama. “You give him the benefit of the doubt. His platform is ‘Build Back Better,’ including with mining. We’re committed with working with him to do that.” 

Darryl Fears contributed to this report.