Sep 15, 2023

House Passes G.O.P. Energy Bill, Pushing to Roll Back Biden Climate Measures


Supported by

The legislation, which had no chance of making it through the Senate, would expand mining and fossil fuel production while repealing some elements of a major new law to combat climate change.

Send any friend a story

As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.

By Stephanie Lai and Coral Davenport

WASHINGTON — A divided House of Representatives on Thursday passed an energy bill aimed at expanding mining and fossil fuel production in the United States that would repeal sections of the landmark climate change legislation that President Biden signed into law last summer.

House Republicans pushed through the legislation, which they call the Lower Energy Costs Act, almost entirely along party lines on a vote of 225 to 204. It has no chance of passing or even being considered in the Democratic-controlled Senate — where Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, has called it "dead on arrival" — or being signed by Mr. Biden, whose advisers issued a veto threat against the bill on Monday, calling it "a thinly veiled license to pollute."

But Republicans have made the measure their top legislative priority and pitched it as the first major policy plank in their newly won House majority's agenda.

The bill's passage was the party's attempt to make good on its promise to bolster domestic energy production and reflected a bid by leaders to appeal to voters by promoting what they call common-sense legislation. The measure is also the latest affront by Republicans to Mr. Biden's climate change policies. They successfully passed a measure through Congress this month that would block a Labor Department rule that allows retirement plan managers to incorporate climate and social considerations into investment decisions.

"If you go across this country, Madam Speaker, it costs too much to heat your home and fill up your car," Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, said as he promoted the bill during floor debate on Tuesday. "It cost less an administration ago."

Republicans say their bill would remove the red tape surrounding the construction of energy infrastructure, such as oil and gas pipelines, by speeding and revising a permitting process that can take as long as five years. Since passage of the climate change bill, some Democrats have also sought changes to accelerate the permitting of wind and solar facilities and transmission lines to move the clean energy.

But energy policy analysts say the two sides’ efforts have little in common. Democrats have sought to overhaul energy permitting by increasing staffing and resources for environmental reviews, while the Republicans’ proposals would simply remove or loosen the legal obligations to perform some of those reviews, said Christi Tezak, an analyst with ClearView Energy Partners, a nonpartisan energy research firm.

"They’re using the same words," she said, "but they mean totally different things."

The House bill would shorten some of the environmental reviews that are currently required before construction of oil and gas pipelines and other energy infrastructure and lift some restrictions on imports and exports of oil and natural gas. It would also limit the president's power over energy development, curbing his authority to restrict or delay the development of energy on federal land and barring him from banning the use of hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as fracking — to extract oil and gas. The legislation would direct the Interior Department to sell new leases to drill on federal lands and in federal waters.

In arguing in favor of the measure, Republicans criticized Mr. Biden's climate agenda, saying policies such as pausing oil and gas leasing and banning mining development have harmed American producers.

"What are we getting in return? We’re getting more dependence on the worst polluters in the world while we wreck our own economy, sending our wealth and jobs overseas," said Representative Bruce Westerman, Republican of Arkansas and the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, who co-sponsored the bill. "House Republicans are ready to show the world that American energy — not Saudi Arabian, not Venezuelan, not Chinese or Russian energy — American energy is our future."

While Republicans argued that the legislation would lower energy costs, it would also cost taxpayers. It would reduce the royalties that oil and gas companies have to pay to drill on federal lands, while repealing a section of the 2022 climate change law, also known as the Inflation Reduction Act, that forced oil and gas companies to pay a fee on emissions of planet-warming methane gas. It would also eliminate some other climate programs from that law, including funds for energy efficiency improvements in buildings and a federal fund for greenhouse gas reduction.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated on Tuesday that the bill would increase the deficit by $430 million. Mr. McCarthy has insisted the opposite, telling Mr. Biden in a letter on Tuesday that Republicans were advancing "measures to lower energy costs" that would also save the government money, helping to address the debt limit.

Democrats, who have nicknamed the bill the Polluters Over People Act, argued that it would promote the production of dirty forms of energy. They called the move to reduce royalties and eliminate interest fees a giveaway to fossil fuel producers.

"The central argument and logic of this bill is that if you give Big Oil everything they want, then perhaps they will lower our gas prices," said Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York. "It's a form of trickle-down fantasy that just will not make life easier for everyday Americans."

Democrats also raised concerns about a provision aimed at streamlining the permitting of oil and gas pipelines and other energy infrastructure. It would change the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which requires federal agencies to review the environmental effects of their proposals before construction begins, setting a higher bar for denying such projects.

It would also reclassify what types of activities would be subject to high levels of environmental review, loosen requirements for repair and maintenance of electric grid infrastructure and for some activities around oil and gas drilling sites, and for the first time create deadlines for environmental reviews.

Representative Tom McClintock, Republican of California, defended the changes, saying they were needed because the existing law governing environmental reviews disadvantaged farmers in his district.

The statute "is making everything we depend upon in our lives increasingly scarce and therefore increasingly expensive," Mr. McClintock said during floor debate on Tuesday.

But Democrats said the measure went much too far in rolling back environmental safeguards. It included language to allow the energy secretary and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to grant waivers to producers to meet national security or energy security needs, a provision that could effectively grant them immunity from all environmental laws.

"Any party that acts under a waiver under this bill can violate any environmental law and have blanket immunity," said Representative Joe Neguse, Democrat of Colorado. "That's not a bill that puts people first."

Republicans said the change and a provision that would loosen the states’ authority to enforce the Clean Water Act were merely meant to remove red tape for energy infrastructure.

Representative Garret Graves, Republican of Louisiana, said states had "weaponized" the Clean Water Act to deny projects that did not directly affect water quality.

Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia have backed permitting changes, which would help expand the nation's energy infrastructure. But Democrats argued that the bill did not address the underlying issues surrounding the onerous regulatory approval process.

On Monday, more than 200 energy and commerce groups sent a letter to Congress asking for passage of a "meaningful and durable" permitting overhaul by the end of the summer.

Stephanie Lai is a reporter in the Washington bureau. She reports on Congress. @stephaniealai

Coral Davenport covers energy and environmental policy for the climate desk from Washington. She was part of a Times team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished public service journalism in 2020, and part of a Times team that received Columbia University's John B. Oakes award for distinguished environmental journalism in 2018. @CoralMDavenport • Facebook


Send any friend a story 10 gift articles