U.S. House passes sweeping energy bill pushing back against Biden climate policies

By: - March 31, 2023 4:20 am

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy answers questions from reporters at the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House on Thursday approved a bill packed with Republican energy priorities meant to counteract the Biden administration’s approach and boost U.S. oil and gas production.

Numbered H.R. 1 as a signal that energy policy is the House majority’s top legislative priority, the bill includes a package of GOP proposals, ranging from reforming the process for gaining federal approvals for energy projects to condemning President Joe Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline.

“Voters awarded House Republicans with the majority in Congress to fight President Biden’s radical energy policies and lower costs for American families, and today, we are working to make that a reality,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican who was the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement following the vote.

Four Democrats, Jared Golden of Maine, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington state and Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, joined almost all Republicans present in voting for the bill. The final tally was 225-204.

House debate stretched throughout the week on the bill, which has virtually no chance of becoming law as written. It would need 60 votes in the U.S. Senate — meaning at least 11 Democrats and independents would have to support it. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York pronounced it “a partisan, dead-on-arrival, and unserious proposal for addressing America’s energy needs” in a March 15 floor speech.

Biden has also pledged to veto the bill.

The measure would repeal parts of Democrats’ massive climate change law from last year, including a methane pollution fee that funds grants for clean-energy projects to benefit low-income communities. It would also require the federal Bureau of Land Management to hold quarterly auctions for oil and gas leases.

Focus on prices

Congressional Republicans have touted the bill as a crucial measure to reduce energy prices and ease inflation. The package is meant to spur production and cut bureaucratic delays, Republican leaders have said. Increased domestic production would lower costs for consumers, they have said.

Energy and utility prices have risen in the last two years as Democrats held unified control of Washington and put policies in place to slow domestic production, Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, a Louisiana Republican who authored the part of the bill to speed energy permitting, have argued.

“My friends across the aisle have refused to produce American energy,” Graves said on the House floor. “It’s a supply-and-demand issue.”

Democrats blast ‘love letter’ to polluters

Despite the four-moderate defection, most House Democrats have been strongly against the measure, which they say is a thinly disguised giveaway to oil and gas and mining interests.

Arizona Democrat Raúl Grijalva, the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee, said the bill looked more like a “love letter to polluting industry than a serious legislative effort.”

The bill ignored the warning in the United Nations’ climate report this month that the world must transition away from fossil fuel production as soon as possible to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

“We have a lot to do and very little time to do it before the ticking climate bomb we’re living in goes off,” Grijalva said on the House floor Tuesday.

House Energy and Commerce ranking Democrat Frank Pallone of New Jersey said the bill’s provisions on federal permitting would do little to speed construction of wind and solar projects.

“It’s a sweetheart deal to expedite polluting projects at the expense of Americans’ health and safety,” he said in a statement.

Message to voters

With little chance of becoming law, the bill seemed more aimed at showing voters Republicans would prioritize fossil fuel production above climate concerns. And House Republicans spent much time this week promoting the package as the antidote to Biden’s climate-focused energy policy.

“H.R. 1 prioritizes the American people over this radical climate agenda,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state said on the House floor Wednesday.

The Keystone XL pipeline provision, for example, would only declare Congress’ dissatisfaction with Biden’s order to nix the project. Nothing in the bill would restore the pipeline, which was proposed to carry crude oil from Canada, through Montana and the Midwest.

House Republicans also criticized another early Biden administration move to pause oil and gas leasing on public lands.

Biden has “waged war on American producers, shutting down oil and gas leasing, banning mineral development in certain areas, and insisting on keeping our federal regulations permanently stuck in the past,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman, an Arkansas Republican, said on Tuesday.

But, after a federal judge reversed an early Biden administration order to pause leases on federal lands, the administration has already resumed lease sales, including a $264 million lease sale on Wednesday for offshore production in the Gulf of Mexico.

Permitting a possibility

Biden and top Senate Democrats have voiced support for a bill to speed up the permitting process for energy projects, and that portion of the House bill could serve as a starting point for negotiations for a bipartisan permitting reform proposal.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Joe Manchin III of West Virginia could see the House bill forming the basis of a bipartisan permitting measure, spokeswoman Sam Runyon said in a statement Thursday.

“Senator Manchin is taking a close look at HR1 and is hopeful there might be a pathway to permitting legislation that could gain bipartisan support,” Runyon said.

McMorris Rodgers said this week House Republicans would work with Manchin, a centrist Democrat, on a permitting bill.

“We will go to work with the Senate on permitting. Sen. Manchin I know is anxious to go to work on it,” she said at a Tuesday event hosted by a think tank associated with former President Donald Trump. “We’re anxious to get a real permitting bill in place.”

But Graves said in an interview after the vote that divorcing the permitting legislation from the rest of the bill was “a flawed approach,” calling for Schumer to reconsider his position on the entire bill.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.

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