Despite Scientists’ Warnings, House Republicans Pass Bill to Boost Fossil Fuels Amidst Climate Crisis
Ten days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report synthesizing the findings of its Sixth Assessment Cycle — warning that world leaders must slash greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2035 to have a 50 percent chance to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and staving off more severe climate impacts — the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to boost the burning of fossil fuels.
The so-called Lower Energy Costs Act, or H.R.1, would cut a fee on methane emissions from oil and gas operations, ease permitting regulations for energy projects and require more fossil fuel leasing on public lands, among other things. Its mostly Republican backers argue that it would boost U.S. energy independence and lower domestic energy costs, but opponents argue that relying on fossil fuels in the first place is what makes energy prices so volatile.
“None of it [the GOP energy agenda] makes sense in this moment,” Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), who sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee, told Politico. “They ignore the fact it was the high fossil fuel prices that was the primary driver of inflation. What I hear from folks back home is they don’t want to be at the mercy of these gas and oil price spikes. They are looking towards the clean energy economy — greater independence and more money in their pocket.”
The bill passed 225 to 204, with four Democrats supporting it and one Republican voting against. It is partly the GOP’s answer to President Joe Biden’s signature climate legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). It would repeal key elements such as the methane fee, the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund and money to make buildings more energy efficient, according to Politico and The New York Times.
It also takes up the cause of permitting reform, limiting the review time for new projects under the National Environmental Policy Act to two years and making it harder for green groups to sue to block projects like pipelines.
Its backers argue that the measure would lower energy costs and ensure the U.S. does not have to rely on foreign powers.
“The Biden administration has kneecapped American energy production, and endlessly delayed critical infrastructure projects. Democrats’ misguided policies increased costs for every American and jeopardized our national security – and they’ve made the rest of the world more reliant on dirtier energy from Russia and China,” the website of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) reads. “To lower costs for Americans and grow our economy, we need to get the federal government out of the way. The Lower Energy Costs Act will fast-track American energy production, and includes comprehensive permitting reforms that will speed construction for everything from pipelines to transmission to water infrastructure. And it ensures that the critical minerals needed for advanced technologies come from America – not China.”
However, it would actually cost taxpayers more, since it would reduce the royalties that oil and gas companies have to pay for drilling on public lands, The New York Times pointed out.
Environmental justice advocates, meanwhile, warn against the impacts of rushing through dirty energy projects.
“Developers and others attempting to cut corners on environmental impact assessments have a long history of placing environmentally harmful developments in communities of color, minimizing or even failing to disclose dangers to the communities,” WE ACT for Environmental Justice senior director of strategy and federal policy Dana Johnson said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “For the past half-century, NEPA’s standards for environmental impact assessments have helped communities identify and mitigate impacts and, most importantly, consider public comments. Any efforts to water down NEPA will subsequently hurt the communities impacted most.”
Democrats have dubbed the bill the Polluters Over People Act and will likely succeed in blocking it for now, The New York Times reported. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said it was “dead on arrival,” and Biden has promised to veto it.
“This Administration is making unprecedented progress in protecting America’s energy security and reducing energy costs for Americans – in their homes and at the pump. H.R. 1 would do just the opposite, replacing pro-consumer policies with a thinly veiled license to pollute. It would raise costs for American families by repealing household energy rebates and rolling back historic investments to increase access to cost-lowering clean energy technologies. Instead of protecting American consumers, it would pad oil and gas company profits – already at record levels – and undercut our public health and environment,” a Statement of Administration Policy released Monday reads. “The Administration strongly opposes this bill.”
However, the bill is a victory of sorts for McCarthy, showing he can rally his party’s narrow majority for a vote, according to Reuters. It also could become a major campaign talking point for Republicans heading into the 2024 election, Politico noted. Finally, it could be a bargaining chip in the Congressional push for permitting reform, which is a major priority for coal-backed Senator Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and supported by some Democrats to ease renewable energy installations.
“By showing our strong support, we give some of our Senate Democratic friends an idea of okay, we have a place to work the permitting space particularly,” Representative Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee told Politico. “Even if it’s not the whole package, these are smart policies whether you are trying to hook up offshore wind or trying to get a gas pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois.”
Subscribe to get exclusive updates in our daily newsletter!