The House on Thursday passed an energy package that was the Republican conference’s top legislative priority, sending the measure to the Senate where the Democratic leader has said it is “dead-on-arrival.”
The legislation, titled the Lower Energy Costs Act, passed in a 225-204 vote. Four Democrats — including Reps. Vicente Gonzalez (Texas), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (Wash.) and Jared Golden (Maine) — voted in favor of the bill. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) was the only Republican to vote against it.
Broadly, the bill seeks to bolster fossil fuel production and exports, as well as domestic mining. It also aims to speed up the approval process for energy and other infrastructure projects and repeal some programs in the sweeping climate legislation Democrats passed last year.
Republicans have named the bill as H.R. 1, signifying it is party’s top priority after Republicans made going after Biden on energy policy a main theme of their 2022 campaign strategy.
“This is a bill focused on helping those families who’ve been struggling, who’ve been saying for the last two years, is anybody in Washington looking out for the families who are living paycheck-to-paycheck, who cannot make ends meet, who are sick and tired of runaway inflation and higher costs?” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), the sponsor of the bill, said on the House floor Thursday. “And the answer is yes, House Republicans are here with an answer to this problem.”
While the bill, at least in its entirety, is not expected to advance further, it serves as a starting point for Republicans as they seek to negotiate with Democrats on finding a way to speed up the approval process for energy projects — an effort known as permitting reform.
Democratic leadership sought to pass their own permitting reform legislation last year, but Senate Republicans opposed it, saying it did not go far enough. Bipartisan talks on the issue are ongoing.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), the top Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, however, rejected the GOP bill as the opening salvo for permitting reform negotiations.
“For anyone who is being lured into thinking there are opportunities for negotiations on this bill, do not be naive,” Grijalva said on the House floor Tuesday. “This performative permitting reform is not a bipartisan solution, not even a starting point for one.”
“This is just another decades old request from polluters to make their operations cheaper and easier while making Americans’ lives harder and more costly,” he continued. “It’s not a serious solution to any of our energy goals.”
Meanwhile, Republicans have also indicated that they may try to use the leverage given to them in the debt ceiling battle to score some energy policy wins — though it’s not clear what exactly that would look like or whether they could convince Democrats to go along with it.
While Thursday’s vote emphasized Republican priorities, it ultimately ended up being bipartisan despite Democratic leadership urging a “no” vote and renaming it the “Polluters Over People Act.”
Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas) announced his intention to vote for the package on Wednesday, writing in a statement that the legislation is “far from perfect” but “a step forward.” He specifically zeroed in on the provisions pertaining to environmental preview and permitting.
“In order to fully realize the benefits of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, remain competitive on the world stage, and ensure the American people have access to safer roads and bridges and reliable and affordable energy, we must improve federal environmental review and permitting processes,” he wrote.
House Republicans signaled that the energy package was their top priority earlier this month, labeling it with the esteemed “H.R. 1” designation. In the last Congress, Democrats introduced the For the People Act — a voting rights bill — as H.R. 1. The House cleared the measure but it did not move in the 50-50 split Senate.
The GOP package includes a slew of energy policies aimed at bolstering fossil fuels, including provisions that make it easier to sell liquified natural gas abroad, limiting the president’s authority to block crossborder energy projects like it did with the Keystone XL Pipeline and limiting states’ authority to block projects that run through their waters.
The bill would also require the Interior Department to hold at least four sales per year of rights to drill on federal lands in several states and reduce the fees that companies have to pay the government to drill offshore.
It would also seek to speed up the approval process for infrastructure projects by setting time and page limits for environmental reviews that are required for approving projects and also limit the window for a project’s opponents to challenge an approval in court.
And it would repeal programs in the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act that uses both incentives and fees as part of an attempt to get oil and gas companies to reduce their emissions of planet-warming methane and that provides funding for climate-friendly projects.