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US House passes bills to undo Biden climate programs, ease pipe permitting

Highlights

Bills unlikely to move in Democrat-led Senate

Messaging efforts ahead of 2024 elections

  • Author
  • Molly Christian    Maya Weber
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  • Giselle Rodriguez
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  • Crude Oil Energy Transition Natural Gas Upstream
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  • United States
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  • US Policy

House Republicans narrowly passed a slate of bills March 20-22 showcasing the party's energy priorities and favoring US oil and gas production ahead of the 2024 elections but unlikely to be enacted in the 118th Congress.

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The votes were part of what Republicans dubbed "Energy Week" and advanced measures to roll back the US Environmental Protection Agency's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund and scrap the EPA's new fee on oil and gas methane emissions. Another measure would also streamline water crossing permits for oil and gas pipelines and other linear infrastructure.

Although the bills stand almost no chance of passage by the Democrat-controlled Senate, they could indicate what GOP lawmakers try to enact if Republicans win both chambers of Congress and the White House this November. And they present another chance for Republican lawmakers to air grievances with Biden administration energy policies.

"Biden's policies have discouraged private investment in traditional energy projects and harmed American consumers by things such as killing the Keystone Pipeline," said Representative Michael Burgess, Republican-Texas, vice chair of the House Rules Committee March 19. "House Republicans believe that there is a different path, one that lowers energy costs and secures energy independence, and in fact benefits all Americans."

Democrats, for their part, emphasized that domestic energy production has hit all-time highs despite the GOP attacks on Biden's approach. They accused Republicans of passing repeated messaging bills, seeking to gut pollution prevention programs, and offering more handouts to the oil and gas sector.

The House voted to repeal the EPA's $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund and rescind any unobligated balances for the program. The fund, created through the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, provides grants, including to low-income and disadvantaged communities, for projects to cut greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

Under GOP control, the House has voted several times in the past year to reverse the program, but that effort has never advanced in the Senate.

The House also passed H.R. 7023, the Creating Confidence in Clean Water Permitting Act, which among other things would require the US Army Corps of Engineers to maintain general water crossing permits on a nationwide basis for linear infrastructure projects.

To avoid getting bogged down in a more extensive Clean Water Act permitting process for large projects with multiple water crossings, oil and gas pipeline developers have preferred use of a general permit known as Nationwide Permit 12.

After halting the Keystone XL Pipeline approval in a January 2021 executive order, the Biden Administration has held the general permit under review, a status that oil pipeline developers argue creates uncertainty.

Democrats contend the bill would weaken the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to enforce laws against polluters.

Interstate gas pipeline have recently emphasized that they believe reform of the Clean Water Section 401 process, not included in the bill, would be necessary to make real progress on permitting reform. Gas pipelines developers have long complained that some states were abusing their veto power under Section 401.

Signals for production

The House also passed a bill to withdraw a July 2023 proposal from the US Bureau of Land Management to raise royalty rates and make other changes to the federal oil and gas leasing program for public lands.

House Republicans also approved non-binding "sense of Congress" resolutions stating that the president cannot declare a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing without approval from Congress and that a carbon tax would hurt the US economy.

The bills are part of House Republicans' efforts to reverse major climate and energy policies from the Biden administration and Democratic lawmakers, including key IRA programs and tax incentives supporting zero-carbon technologies.

House Democrats blasted the GOP "Energy Week," calling it a "shameless political stunt for [House Republicans'] fossil fuel supporters," according to leaders of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition.

Republicans in the House "want nothing less than to roll back the historic clean energy investments that are already driving a boom in domestic manufacturing, slashing pollution, and creating thousands of jobs across America," coalition members said in a March 19 statement.