House govt approves broad bill to ‘unleash’ US energy

FILE – A pump outlet works as the sun begins to set on the western horizon March 7, 2022, near Pleasant Farms, an unincorporated community in southeast Ector County, Texas. House Republicans will pass a sweeping energy package that counters virtually all of President Joe Biden's agenda to address climate change. (Jacob Ford/Odessa American via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) – House Republicans on Thursday approved a sweeping energy package aimed at undoing virtually all of President Joe Biden's agenda to address climate change.

The legislation would greatly increase domestic production of oil, natural gas and coal and ease permitting restrictions that delay pipelines, refineries and other projects. It would boost production of key minerals such as lithium, nickel and cobalt used in electric vehicles, computers, mobile phones and other products.

By a vote of 225-204, the House sent the measure to the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called it “dead on arrival.” Four Democrats joined all but one Republican in supporting the bill.

Biden has threatened to veto the bill, saying it would replace “consumer-friendly policies” enacted in the landmark climate change law passed last year “with a thinly veiled license to pollute.” The bill would roll back Democratic investments in clean energy and “curb oil and gas company profits,” the White House said.

Republicans call the bill the “Lower Energy Costs Act” and gave it the symbolic label HR 1 — the top legislative priority of the new GOP majority, which took control of the House in January.

The measure combines dozens of separate proposals and represents more than two years of work by Republicans who have chafed at Biden's environmental agenda. They say Biden's efforts have thwarted American energy production and increased costs at the gas pump and grocery store.

“Families are struggling because of President Biden's war on American energy,” said Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., one of the bill's authors.

The GOP bill will “unleash” America's abundant natural resources “so we can produce energy in America,” Scalise said. “We don't have to depend on foreign countries that don't like us.”

Democrats called the bill a giveaway to big oil companies.

“Republicans refuse to hold polluters accountable for the damage they are causing to our air, our water, our communities and our climate,” said New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“While Democrats delivered historic gains for the American people by passing historic climate legislation, Republicans are actively working to undermine that progress and do what their polluter friends say,” Pallone said.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the bill “restores American energy leadership by repealing unnecessary taxes and overregulation of American energy producers” and “makes it easier to build things in America” ​​by putting a two-year time limit on environmental reviews that now takes an average of seven years.

“Every time we need a pipeline, a road or a dam, it's held up for five to seven years and adds millions of dollars in costs for the project to follow Washington's permitting process,” McCarthy said in a speech on the House floor. “It's too far, it's unaffordable, it's not based on science, and it's holding us back.”

He pointed to a project to modify and improve the Lake Isabella Dam in his central California district that has been going on for 18 years and is still not finished.

“Allowing reform is not for everyone,” McCarthy added. “If you like paying more at the pump, you don't want to make it faster for American workers to build more pipelines. If you're China, you'd rather sit back and let others lead. And if you're a bureaucrat, you might really enjoy to read the 600-page environmental impact studies.”

Most Americans want lower prices and more American energy production, McCarthy said — results he said the bill will deliver.

Democrats called it misleading, saying the GOP plan was a thinly veiled effort to reward oil companies and other energy producers who have contributed millions of dollars to GOP campaigns.

Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, derided the bill as the “Polluters Over People Act” and “a nearly 200-page love letter to polluting industries.”

Instead of reining in “Big Oil” companies that have reported record profits while “hoarding thousands of unused leases” on public land and water, the GOP bill lowers royalty rates paid by energy producers and restores non-competitive leasing of public land, Grijalva said .

The bill also gives mining companies “a real free-for-all on our public lands” and “makes a mockery of tribal consultation” required by federal law, he said.

Under the GOP plan, mining companies will “destroy sacred and special places” throughout the West, “destroy the landscape and leave behind a toxic mess that pollutes our water and harms our health — all without paying a cent to the American people,” Grijalva said .

Schumer called the measure “a giveaway to Big Oil masquerading as an energy package.”

The House energy package “would include important environmental protections for fossil fuel projects,” locking America “into expensive, erratic and dirty energy sources while setting back more than a decade on our clean energy transition,” Schumer said.

Schumer said he supports streamlining the nation's cumbersome permitting process for energy projects, especially those that will deliver “clean energy” such as wind, solar and geothermal. “But the Republican plan also fails on this front,” he said, urging Republicans to support reforms that would help ease the transition to renewable energy and speed up the construction of transmission lines to bolster the nation's aging power grid.

Schumer and other Democrats said the Republican bill would repeal a new $27 billion greenhouse gas reduction fund and other parts of the Climate Change and Health Care Act passed by Democrats last year. The bill would also eliminate a new tax on methane pollution.

Four Democrats voted for the bill: Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzales of Texas, Jared Golden of Maine, and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington state. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., opposed the bill.

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