The Energy Policy Modernization Act: A Stakeholder Analysis
United States energy policy is extremely outdated. This month the Senate considers the first update to energy policy in eight years. Progress on the bipartisan legislation has stalled, however, due to unexpected environmental crisis, competing interests, and passionate stakeholders.
The existing bill has a number of goals. It also makes exporting of American natural gas easier by lowering obstacles to exports and improving oil and gas transportation. Since the passage of the last major energy bill in 2007, the US has become the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas; all while the use of wind and solar power has been accelerating thanks to falling costs and government subsidies. The energy grid is not developed enough to handle these changes. The energy bill will update many of these systems and create further storage for renewable energies. One of these major changes would be a reclassification of hydropower and support for more hydropower projects. The bipartisan effort passed through committee with great support.
However, the recent clean water crisis in Michigan has thrown a wrench into the passing of the bill. Democrats in Congress have included a $600 million amendment to the bill to help deal with high levels of lead in the Flint river. Here we can identify some primary stakeholders, and use some of our PAPI and SWOT analytic tools. Democrats in Congress, led by Harry Reid, want to see reparations for the environmental disaster in Flint, and are blocking the passage of the bill. Democrats have power in this situation. Democrats have made an opportunity out of the environmental crisis, using their position of strength to threaten their Republican counterparts. Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell are committed to blocking the opposing agenda. Furthermore, they have a significant weakness in that need to protect the interests of oil and natural gas exports. This is a strong incentive to pass the bill without the aid amendments, but they have to get it past Democrats in Congress.
The people of Flint, represented in the senate by Debbie Stabenow, now play a big role. They suffer the health consequences and destruction to communities as a result of the water problems. They have very high proximity, attitude, and interest in the bill. The emergence of these stakeholders who have received a ton of media attention, has completely transformed the debate surrounding the energy bill. Another stakeholder with an important claim in the legislation, lots of power, but less of a proximity, is the oil and natural gas industry who lobbied to expand the market for their goods. Renewable energy producers are also affected by the updating of the energy grid and green friendly regulations.
The media has played a huge role in this case. The media attitude surrounding the Flint water crisis has raised the profile of the issue. With limited proximity, but a very keen interest and a lot of power to change perceptions about the issue, the media is an important stakeholder as well. The media also colors the debate in the senate, where the public perceptions that they create have tangible effects for our other stakeholders that are making the decisions. Republicans in Congress do not want to seem heartless toward victims of environmental disaster, and Democrats do not want to back down too easily.
These competing interests of stakeholders have created deadlock, and muddied an issue that originally looked like a surefire win for all parties involved. This case exemplifies how unexpected circumstances, like environmental disaster in Michigan, create ripple effects for stakeholders across the board. The energy industry is feeling pressure from an environmental problem not related to energy. Stabenow is leveraging the narratives, media attention, and sympathy surrounding the issue to seize an opportunity to serve her constituents. The people of Flint have had their fate tied to an energy bill to which they formerly had little stake in. This stakeholder analysis demonstrates how unexpected events vastly change the descriptive analysis of a situation. Stakeholders are put at risk and must think quickly to seize opportunity presented by changing political circumstances.
Davenport, Coral. 2016. “Senate Begins Debate On Comprehensive Bipartisan Energy Bill.” The New
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Nann, Melissa. 2016. “Stabenow Vows To Block Energy Bill Without Flint Aid.” Detroit News.
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Yovetich, Sarah. “Sen. Steve Daines Highlights Key Points In Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016.”
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 Davenport, Coral
 Yovetich, Sarah
 Nann, Melissa