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Customers pull their cars into a gas station in the Bronx on June 1, 2018. Photo: Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images

A key historic pattern that has traditionally shaped dynamics around U.S. energy policy and elections has all but disappeared heading into this year’s midterms. Robust U.S. shale gas and shale-oil production have greatly diminished voter concerns about energy availability and affordability — although a gasoline price spike could quickly rekindle them.

Why it matters: At the same time as voter focus on energy has declined, the two major parties have also developed a deeply polarized gap on climate policy, with only 18% of Republicans concerned a “great deal” about global warming compared to 66% of Democrats. These two factors together mean that the energy policy dynamic has now shifted firmly from Congressional production of complex and broad energy legislation — such as the comprehensive, “something for everyone” bills in 2005 and 2007 — to an increasingly complex, unpredictable and partisan dance between the executive branch, regulators, states and courts. This means that while the midterms won’t have a huge impact on the U.S. energy policy outlook, it will be at stake in 2020.

A change in Congress (particularly if limited to a Democrat House takeover) is unlikely to change the pro-fossil fuel and energy-dominant direction set by the Trump administration, since the constraints on Trump come much more from courts and regulators than from Congress. The 2020 election will therefore be much more decisive.

Democrats will almost certainly nominate a candidate whose energy posture combines second-term Obama climate-centric policy and California-style renewables support. Fracking will be a tricky issue given its importance in battleground states such as Colorado and Pennsylvania. For a preview of how Democrats might navigate the issue, look to this November’s ballot initiative in Colorado on drilling setbacks for oil and gas production. It’s less tricky for Republicans who universally support fracking.

The bottom line: A Democratic take-back of the House (likely) or even both chambers (less likely) will probably not disrupt the U.S. energy policy outlook. But a Democratic presidential victory in 2020 would re-open the fracking debate and provide a tailwind for climate- and renewables-friendly policy. But even there the next President will likely face the same legal and state-level constraints that President Trump faces on pipeline approvals and fuel-efficiency standards.

Robert Johnston is CEO of Eurasia Group and a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center.

Go deeper

U.S. ambassador to Russia will return home briefly: State Department

John Sullivan, U.S. Ambassador to Russia, during a briefing in Moscow in 2015. Photo: Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS via Getty Images

The State Department said Monday that the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, will now be returning to the United States this week before returning to Moscow "in the coming weeks."

Why this matters: The statement, from a State Department spokesperson, comes just hours after Axios reported that Sullivan had indicated he intended to stand his ground and stay in Russia after the Kremlin “advised” him to return home to talk with his team.

Scoop: Leaked Ukraine memo reveals scope of Russia's aggression

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits a military exposition in Sevastopol, Crimea, in Jan. 2020. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russia has been holding last-minute military exercises near commercial shipping lanes in the Black Sea that threaten to strangle Ukraine's economy, according to an internal document from Ukraine's ministry of defense reviewed by Axios.

Why it matters: With the eyes of the world on the massive buildup of troops in eastern Ukraine, the leaked memo shows Russian forces escalating their presence on all sides of the Ukrainian border.

Elon Musk: Autopilot feature wasn't enabled in fatal Texas crash

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Monday that "data logs recovered so far" show the car's Autopilot feature was not enabled — and it did not have access to "full self-driving mode" — in the deadly crash in Texas involving the company's electric vehicle.

Background: Local investigators said they believed the car was operating without anyone in the driver's seat. At the time of death, one man was in the passenger seat, while another was in the rear seat, KPRC 2 reports.

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