Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from oil-rich Louisiana, has been named the new Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee and, unlike her predecessor, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Landrieu's political prospects are closely tied to the industries she will be regulating.
Oil and gas interests have contributed more than $1 million to the Louisiana Democrat's campaigns since 1989, Influence Explorer data reveals. Other energy interests have also chipped in: Entergy Corporation, an electric power supplier that serves parts of Louisiana, has accounted for a little over $87,000 in campaign contributions.
Landrieu faces a difficult balancing act on energy and environmental issues as she prepares for a hotly contested re-election bid against Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., in 2014. Republicans view Landrieu as one of their best opportunities to pick up a seat in the Senate.
The Bayou State's economic fortunes are closely linked to the oil and gas industries and so is Landrieu's campaign. OpenSecrets' tally of Landrieu's fundraising filings reveals she has already scored big contributions from major energy companies this cycle en route to gathering more than $1.7 million in total campaign receipts (Figures include contributions from company PACs, employees and their family members):
So what does a Landrieu chairmanship mean to environmentalists? It depends on who you ask.
The Shreveport Times reports conservation groups praised her work on behalf of the RESTORE Act, which secured funds for coastal restoration after the BP oil catastrophe in the Gulf, while the Washington Post writes her stance on the Keystone XL pipeline may put her in the crosshairs of "green" groups come re-election time:
"Landrieu favors building the Keystone XL pipeline, protecting tax breaks or incentives for oil drilling, and placing limits on the power of federal agencies to set mercury or carbon dioxide guidelines for coal-fired power plants. Wyden takes the opposite position on all those issues."
Tom Steyer, the billionaire hedge fund manager-turned-environmentalist has floated the possibility of running ads against Landrieu in 2014 for her support of the pipeline, which would transport oil derived from tar sands into the United States from Canadian oil fields in Alberta. As Sunlight reported Feb. 4, Steyer has considerable financial muscle to bring to bear. Thus far in the 2014 cycle, he is the largest single donor to super PACs in the country, funneling over $11 million into his own committees: NextGen Climate Action and CE Action.
Though Landrieu may be targeted by NextGen's next wave of attack ads, her new leadership role may help to scare up new funds to pay for ads of her own. Congressional committee leaders can command larger campaign donations from the corporate PACs and interests they oversee — its why many members list their committee assignments on invitations to their fundraising events.