The Fuse

Energy Policy 2016: Spotlight on former U.S. Senator from Virginia Jim Webb

by R. Kress | August 04, 2015

Status: Declared candidacy on July 2, 2015

Party: Democrat

Career Overview:  Prior to his political career, Webb was a decorated U.S. marine who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. He served in Vietnam where his actions prompted him to be awarded the Navy Cross—the second-highest decoration of valor. Under President Ronald Reagan, he served as U.S. Secretary of the Navy. In the nearly two decades between serving under President Reagan and becoming the U.S. Senator from Virginia in 2007, Webb worked primarily as a writer and a filmmaker. He won an Emmy Award, wrote ten books, taught at the Naval Academy, and served as a fellow at Harvard. He served only one term as Senator, announcing that he would not seek reelection in 2012. He exited office in January of 2013.

Senate Voting Record:

  • NO: Bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases (4/11)
  • YES: Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (6/07)
    • YES: Remove oil and gas exploration subsidies (this provision ultimately did not pass)
  • YES: Move the US toward greater energy security and independence, set new goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025 (12/07)

Energy Independence: In 2007, Webb delivered the rebuttal to President George W. Bush’s State of the Union Address. With the Democrats leading Congress at the time, Webb took a particular aim at the President’s remarks regarding energy independence: “Further, this is the seventh time the President has mentioned energy independence in his state of the union message, but for the first time this exchange is taking place in a Congress led by the Democratic Party. We are looking for affirmative solutions that will strengthen our nation by freeing us from our dependence on foreign oil, and spurring a wave of entrepreneurial growth in the form of alternate energy programs. We look forward to working with the President and his party to bring about these changes.”

In 2011, Webb partnered with fellow Virginia Senator Mark R. Warner—also a Democrat—to introduce a bill to permit oil and natural gas drilling off of their state’s coast. Webb called the move a win for cutting back on foreign oil dependence: “Opening up and expanding Virginia’s offshore resources to responsible natural gas and oil exploration holds significant promise for boosting needed domestic energy production while bolstering the commonwealth’s economy.” On the same issue, he again invoked a push for energy independence when urging the President to remove certain restrictions on Virginia Outer Continental Shelf resources: “As gas prices rise, in part due to America’s dependence on foreign oil, we must pursue robust energy policies that include the expansion of our domestic energy resources in a safe and secure manner, as well as conservation and clean energy measures.” Ultimately, the bill died in Congress and proved to be highly unpopular with conservationists and environmentalists.

Coal defender: Webb parts ways with many of his fellow Democrats in his opposition to key provisions of the Clean Air Act. As a Senator from a coal-producing state, he urged his colleagues to back Senator Jay Rockefeller’s (D-WV) 2011 amendment that would have frozen the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gases from “stationary sources for a period of two years…[to] give Congress time to address ‘legitimate concerns over climate change’ without disrupting important progress made on motor vehicle fuel and emission standards.” In his statement on the issue, he went on to say “I am not convinced that the Clean Air Act was ever intended to regulate—or to classify as a dangerous pollutant—something as basic and ubiquitous in our atmosphere as carbon dioxide.”

Webb had previously parted ways with the majority of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate when he moved to block a 2009 cap-and-trade bill introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA and John Kerry (D-MA.). Instead, he partnered with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) across the aisle to double down on the use of nuclear energy over the next two decades at a cost of $20 billion. Both Alexander and Webb had strong interests in supporting nuclear power as their states have substantial plants.

Keystone XL: Although Webb was no longer a Senator when the issue of the Keystone XL Pipeline arose for a vote, he was sure to make his voice and opinion heard all the same—via Twitter. In November of 2014, a few months before the Keystone bill passed and was subsequently vetoed by the President, he posted: “#KeystoneXL pipeline should have been passed by Congress three years ago. Environmental risk is low; economic upside is strong.” In February, after the veto, his vocal support of the pipeline heated up on social media: “Regret Obama’s veto of #KeystoneXL Pipeline Bill that passed Senate 62 -36 and House 270 – 152…State Dept found neutral on climate change, no serious impact on environment, and creation of 40,000 jobs. 6 years is a long time to wait…No one owns me & I owe nothing to big oil. Just common sense—no harmful impact to enviro., [sic] 40k jobs, and 62 Sen. supported it, incl. 9 Dems.”