House Republicans are hoping to pass this week one of their biggest legislative priorities: An energy package that defies the Biden administration’s climate policies.
The legislation, dubbed the “Lower Energy Costs Act” and given the symbolic priority of H.R. 1, is the culmination of two years’ worth of Republican heartburn with the Biden administration. The bill includes greater access to public lands for energy use, provisions to ease permitting bottlenecks and efforts to increase mining.
Notably, the bill includes repeals to several provisions of last year’s climate-focused Inflation Reduction Act, including a fee on methane emissions.
“For the last two years, President [Joe] Biden and his extremist friends in Washington have waged a war on American energy, and hard-working families across the country are paying the price,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said when introducing the package.
“Voters gave Republicans the majority in Congress to stop this radical anti-American energy agenda,” said Scalise, “and to take action that will lower prices, and House Republicans listened.”
Here’s a breakdown of what’s in the bill and the state of play this week:
Amendment questions, CBO score
The Rules Committee will meet Monday to determine which of the more than 150 amendments filed to the bill will receive floor consideration. GOP leaders in charge of shepherding the legislation said last week that final tweaks would happen over the weekend (E&E Daily, March 24).
“Everything that has come across the floor has had a lot of amendments,” House Rules Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told reporters of the bills House Republicans have considered so far this year. “There’s certainly a lot of people who want to legislate … so I would expect quite a few.”
The package has moved rapidly. Over the past few months, lawmakers have held hearings and committee markups on dozens of bills from the Energy and Commerce, Natural Resources, and Transportation and Infrastructure committees. GOP leaders have pulled most of those initiatives into H.R. 1.
But the package hit a speed bump just ahead of the weekend when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its official fiscal accounting of how the bill would affect federal deficits.
According to the CBO report, the bill would increase the federal deficit by $2.3 billion by 2033 due in part to the bill’s revenue-sharing mandates, which would direct more royalties to states hosting offshore oil and wind projects. Cost also come from scrapping the methane fee and changes to royalty fees.
“It’s long past time for Republicans to stop pretending to care about our budget and holding our debt ceiling hostage with reckless cuts to vital programs like Medicare and Social Security,” said Natural Resources ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.). “The CBO score for this bill is showing the Republican agenda for what it is — political stunts and performative pro-polluter proposals.”
Most Democrats are expected to oppose the energy package, especially because it would undercut policies passed under the Inflation Reduction Act. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has already declared the bill “dead on arrival” in his chamber.
Earlier this month, House Natural Resources Chair Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) acknowledged the difficult political reality that the effort faces, with Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House.
“There may be stuff in the bill — on the federal lands, on the mining — that Democrats can’t support,” Westerman said. “But they get to take an honest look at it and realize that this would be better for the country.”
The foundational piece of the package stems from Rep. Garret Graves’ (R-La.) “BUILDER Act,” a permitting-focused overhaul of how the federal government should approach environmental reviews.
The bill is the first legislative effort on the matter since last year, when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) failed to pass his own version of permitting reform amid resistance from Republicans and progressive Democrats. Though there is still bipartisan interest in permitting, this version of it won’t get any traction in the Senate.
The House bill seeks to codify a host of Trump administration changes to the environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act, including a two-year deadline for all reviews as well as the deployment of more categorical exclusions in reviews.
The bill would limit judicial interventions to 120 days after the completion of the review, and only from those who had previously interacted with the public comment process. It would also raise the bar for which projects require reviews.
A provision from Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Sam Graves (R-Mo.) would alter the way states can reject Clean Water Act permits under Section 401 of that bill. Democratic-controlled states have used the permitting authority to interfere with fossil fuel projects crossing their boundaries.
An Energy and Commerce provision would seek to speed up the approval of liquefied natural gas export approvals by leaving the process to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and limiting the Department of Energy’s role in the process.
The package contains Republican priorities that truncate and streamline permitting for mines that are seen as critical to providing minerals for the nation’s clean energy transition.
But despite bipartisan agreement that permitting timelines are too long, the provisions in H.R. 1 have proven controversial and faced Democratic pushback.
The legislation contains language from House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Chair Pete Stauber (R-Minn.) to shorten hardrock mining permitting reviews and bar lawsuits against federal decisions more than 120 days after such a decision has been made.
The bill includes language from Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) that would bar “foreign bad actors” from operating on federal lands.
Under that provision, companies with claims will be barred from using, occupying or conducting operations on federal lands if the secretary of the Interior finds the claimant has a record of human rights violations or knowingly operates an illegal mine in another country.
Energy and Commerce tilt
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee had 16 of their bills included, which, like the rest of the energy package, focuses largely on partisan priorities on domestic fossil fuels, critical mineral production and pipelines.
Some of the bills attempt to make broad regulatory exemptions on energy and mineral production projects to streamline approval processes, creating waivers for “critical energy resources” in several bedrock laws like the Clean Air Act or the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Other bills attempt to reform, centralize authority and impose deadlines around regulatory processes on fossil fuel projects that Republicans believe the country needs more of, such as natural gas pipelines and LNG export facilities (E&E Daily, March 10).
Much of the legislation, such as Rep. Debbie Lesko’s (R-Ariz.) resolution to disapprove of Biden’s revocation of the Keystone XL pipeline permit, has been labeled by Democrats as pointlessly partisan.
Democrats have taken particular umbrage with two bills that would repeal parts of the Inflation Reduction Act. One would strike down the methane fee program, and the other would end a multibillion-dollar fund to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Republicans also added the “Homeowner Energy Freedom Act,” H.R. 1603, which was advanced out of committee last week. The bill would also take aim at the Inflation Reduction Act, repealing certain energy efficiency and electrification programs included in the law.
Lease sale requirements
Other sections of the bill were crafted in Westerman’s Natural Resources Committee.
“We don’t want to make it about special projects or carve out something for one part of the country,” Westerman said. “We want to have structural reforms.”
As such, the bill would require the Interior Department to hold quarterly lease sales for onshore oil production, require the Interior secretary to hold all lease sales in the long-delayed “five-year plan” in the outer continental shelf, as well as hold two regionwide sales per year in the Alaska region and the Gulf.
Another section of the bill creates a structure for revenue sharing for states with new offshore wind development.
States with new wind would get half the revenue from lease sales. And 37.5 percent would be deposited to the existing North American Wetlands Conservation Fund.
Reporter Emma Dumain contributed.