- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2023

House Republicans are on the cusp of passing a sprawling energy package with the support of Democrats, in what will be a major legislative win that GOP lawmakers say will give them increased leverage against Senate Democrats and President Biden.

The House will pass the Lower Energy Costs Act on Thursday, a wide-ranging bill dubbed H.R. 1, with dozens of longtime Republican priorities, that seeks to boost fossil fuel production and fast-track approval of new projects to lower household energy costs.

At least two moderate Democrats from oil-rich districts — Reps. Vincente Gonzalez and Henry Cuellar of Texas — publicly say they’ll cross party lines to back the GOP measure, despite it rolling back some provisions of Democrats’ tax-and-climate spending law called the Inflation Reduction Act that they supported just last year.

“While this package is far from perfect, it is a step forward,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “I am hopeful that we can work in a bipartisan and bicameral way to make progress on this issue and deliver for our constituents.”

The Democratic defections, coupled with Mr. Biden’s stunning reversal earlier this month on a controversial D.C. crime bill that left House Democrats fuming, is fueling Republicans’ hopes they can pressure the White House and Senate Democrats to the negotiating table on energy policies.

“Our whip office does not whip the Democrats, but they’re doing it for us by announcing [support] publicly. I don’t expect a lot of Democrats, but I think you might see more than two,” House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, Minnesota Republican, told The Washington Times. “I think the Senate is in virtually the same place as the House when it comes to trusting Joe Biden’s word.”

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican and a lead author of the energy bill, said Republicans are considering adding energy provisions to their list of demands for future debt ceiling talks with the White House.

“I would like this to be part of a debt ceiling negotiation,” Mr. Scalise said. “There are a lot of senators that are recognizing — especially those that are up on the ballot next year — that high energy costs are a huge burden on families all across America, and especially in their states.”

Republicans continue to bludgeon Mr. Biden and Democrats for stubbornly high energy costs, a significant driver of inflation and a drag at the ballot box for incumbents.

Aside from trying to lower energy costs, Republicans argue that Democrats need their reforms for transitioning to a clean energy economy.

But most Democrats don’t buy it. They call House Republicans’ bill the “Polluters over People Act,” and Senate Democrats say it’s “dead on arrival.” Mr. Biden has also threatened a veto.

Democrats also reject the notion they’ll face increased pressure, given the legislation would roll back efforts to combat climate change.

The Lower Energy Costs Act would accelerate the approval process for mining and energy projects — renewable and fossil fuels alike; slash environmental regulations; lift restrictions on liquefied natural gas imports and exports; prohibit a ban on the natural gas-drilling practice called fracking; prevent states from blocking interstate energy projects like pipelines; greenlight more oil and gas drilling on federal lands; and repeal billions in natural gas taxes and Environmental Protection Agency funds.

The sales pitch from Republicans is that Democrats need the provisions for critical aspects of their green agenda, such as more mineral mining for electric vehicle batteries.

Mr. Gonzalez appears to agree. He argued that “in order to fully realize the benefits” of new infrastructure projects and having affordable energy security, “we must improve federal environmental review and permitting processes.”
Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a conservative Democrat who chairs his chamber’s Energy Committee, has already begun informal bipartisan energy discussions behind the scenes.

But while even climate hawks agree that clean energy projects need more prompt environmental reviews and approvals — which often take years and costs millions thanks to legal challenges — the vast majority of Democrats vehemently object to policies aiding Big Oil.

“They want to be the environmental warriors. Their energy policy is promoting more damage to the environment than we’ve ever seen before,” said House Natural Resources Chairman Bruce Westerman, Arkansas Republican and a lead author of the bill. “Putin’s natural gas is 47% dirtier than gas we produce here. When we have to ship oil from OPEC, the carbon footprint of using OPEC oil vs. oil produced in the Gulf [of Mexico] is many times more than when we use the energy here.”

• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at rtouchberry@washingtontimes.com.

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