Landrieu in line to chair powerful Senate Energy committee _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., speaks with representatives from oil and gas businesses at the Picard Center in Lafayette Jan. 22, 2014.

The U.S. Senate approved Thursday afternoon a new ambassador to China, which set off a shuffle that likely will end up with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu taking the chairmanship of the committee that oversees energy policy.

The Senate confirmed U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., as the ambassador to the People’s Republic of China on a 96-0 vote. He is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and his departure will mean changes among the Senate leadership.

The Senate Democratic Caucus will likely vote on the new chairmanships at its weekly lunch Tuesday. The Caucus votes on committee chairmanships for each Senate committee.

Basically, U.S. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. But he is next line to head the Senate Finance committee. If Wyden moves, then Landrieu, a Democrat, is next in line to head the Energy committee.

She would be the first Louisiana senator since J. Bennett Johnston to be in charge of the committee that oversees policies governing one of the largest industries in the state. Johnson chaired the committee between 1987 and 1995.

Roger Villere, chairman of Louisiana Republican Party, said in prepared statement that if Landrieu becomes committee chairman, her ascendency will mean little because the Senate Majority Leader is Harry Reid, D-Nev., who has blocked legislation important to states with large energy economies. “It doesn’t matter who chairs what committee, as long as Harry Reid in charge, Louisiana will suffer,” he said.

Landrieu, a Democrat, is running for her fourth term in November. She joined the Senate in 1997. Villere has vowed to unseat her and elect a second Republican senator from Louisiana, which could possibly create a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate. Three Republicans have challenged Landrieu in the election.

Landrieu has pushed the Obama Administration for three years to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would ship crude oil and byproducts from Alberta, Canada to Port Arthur, Texas. Environmentalists have raised concerns about safety. Landrieu argues that the project could create about 43,000 jobs.

She also advocated energy-related legislation, such as the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, which opened about 8.3 million new acres for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2012, Landrieu and U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., sponsored the RESTORE Act, which directed 80 percent of the BP oil spill fines to the five Gulf Coast states most impacted.