The political landscape in the nation’s capital has become so difficult to navigate, an energy lobbyist told industry professionals he has a grudging appreciation for Nancy Pelosi.

Former House Speaker Pelosi, D-California, is not a friend of the oil and gas industry, said Dan Naatz, COO and executive vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. But the speaker was able to get things done.

“You want to see a good speaker, watch Nancy Pelosi,” Naatz said, while discussing the Republican speaker fight last year. “If you crossed her, she knee-capped you. Pelosi ran a tight ship and, at some level, I respect that.”

Naatz spoke about the current D.C. atmosphere at the IPAA Private Capital Conference on Jan. 17.

Washington has always been home to a lot of acrimony, but the lobbyist said the past few years the levels of dysfunction have been on the rise. The leaders on either side aren’t engaging enough in good-faith debates, he said.

“So often now, it’s just competing slogans.”

Regulatory roles

Last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted 2-1 in favor of two new gas pipeline projects. The FERC is supposed to have five commissioners, but currently only has three as Biden administration nominees struggle to win congressional approval.

Both projects, a gas pipeline to support a new power plant in Tennessee and a capacity expansion of Williams Cos.’ Transcontinental gas pipeline in Louisiana and Texas, were approved despite a dispute between the three commissioners over whether or not the projects followed FERC guidelines in regard to the effect on global warming and meeting a threshold of public convenience and necessity.

Naatz said the current atmosphere in D.C. reflects that a large portion of the public believes that transferring the energy system to non-carbon sources will be painless.

“The biggest challenge we have in Washington is that—President Obama was really good at it—just saying ‘Well, we’re just going to flip. No pain, no challenge. Tomorrow we can go to renewables, just like that,’” he said. “We all know if it were that easy, it would have been done by now.”

The attitude shows in the Biden administration, he said. While the energy industry has been able to work with the current White House in some respects, the administration tends to talk out of both sides of its mouth when discussing the future.

President Biden came into office promising no new energy leases on federal lands and opposing new pipelines. However, wars in the Ukraine and the Middle East have shown the instability of the market, and demand for domestic energy has continued to rise.

“So, they [White House officials] don’t know where to go with that,” Naatz said, noting that Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm deserves some credit because she has talked to a lot of people in the energy industry. However, the secretary has not shown an understanding of how the industry works.

“Secretary Granholm loves to say, ‘Let’s get out there and produce, let’s go right now,’” Naatz said. “You know and I know that we can’t just turn these things on. It’s not a spigot.”

Messed-up messaging

The Biden administration is stuck with a mixed message for energy, demanding oil producers provide enough oil, while also setting drastic carbon reduction goals by the end of the decade, he said.

The industry also is dealing with the administrative trend of making climate change an issue that all government departments must take into account, such as the policy that the Department of Defense must now consider global warning a national security threat.

On the Republican side, Naatz noted the party’s in-fighting has caused industry lobbyists difficulties in determining whom to work with.

“The GOP Caucus is a mess. There’s no party discipline. There are three GOP caucuses in the House,” he said. And the conflict comes a time when the GOP holds only a three-vote majority in the House. “So, when party discipline is at a premium, they have very little party discipline.”

Looking ahead, Naatz sees difficulties on both sides of the political aisle. The Biden administration may be leveraged into stronger positions against oil and gas development to keep the environmentalists in the Democratic Party happy. A re-nominated Donald Trump would bring trouble to GOP moderates.

“We’re non-partisan. I'm not taking a shot at Trump or anybody else,” he said. “But, Donald Trump’s plan has been to make things as extreme as possible.”

Extreme statements force members of his own caucus into defending him, as opposed to spending time on legislative issues. Republican caucus members also sometimes end up contradicting the energy industry’s own policies.

The IPAA, along with most major energy companies, has stated that global warming is real and is engaged in finding workable solutions for producers. The public debate, however, can put the industry in the wrong light, he said.

“On one side you’ve got ‘Drill, baby, drill.’ I can tell you I hate ‘Drill, baby, drill.’ It makes us sound like we’re Jed Clampett, like we’re just shooting at crude,” Naatz said. “But that’s not what happens out there. These industries are hugely sophisticated, loaded with technology, searching for oil and natural gas.”