Republicans, along with four Democrats, passed by a 225-204 vote sweeping energy legislation March 30 that cobbled together about 20 separate bills meant to increase U.S. oil and gas production. The Lower Energy Costs Act also eliminates some climate initiatives, bars limits on gas stove sales and speeds up permitting for energy and infrastructure projects. 

The bill, which had all but one Republican vote, is unlikely to become law with most Democrats expected to oppose its repeal of some provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act enacted last year, including a fee on methane emissions and an estimated $27-billion fund for greenhouse gas reduction. 

Several Republican-pushed amendments that were approved close to bill passage also would order the U.S. Government Accountability Office to study a variety of impacts of offshore wind buildout in the U.S.

The bill also would prevent the U.S. Energy Dept. from finalizing a proposed new efficiency rule for gas stoves and other measures limiting their sale.

Before passage, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had already declared the bill “dead on arrival." The Congressional Budget Office said the bill would increase the deficit by $2.3 billion by 2033, with President Joe Biden vowing a veto if it passed Congress "in its current form," said the White House, although some in Congress still see it as a floor for bipartisan negotiations.

Compromise legislation could be included in broader bills later this year, related to lifting the debt ceiling or defense policy, said ClearView Energy Partners, a nonpartisan research group. 

That strategy was used last December by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) in seeking to have a more moderate permit reform proposal included in defense spending legislation, but it failed to gain necessary votes. He now is  "hopeful there might be a pathway to permitting legislation that could gain bipartisan support," a spokeswoman told S & P Global. Democrats are pushing legislation to expedite the permit process for transmission infrastructure,

The current Republican bill would limit the time for environmental impact statements for large projects to two years and the length to 150 pages. Extremely complex projects would have a 300-page limit. Projects now have a median of about 400 pages, according to a 2020 White House review. 

Environmental assessments would be limited to a one-year review and 75 pages. Challenges to approvals must be made within 120 days under the bill, known as H.R. 1. It also would change the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to review project environmental effects before construction begins, setting a higher bar for denials, according to analyses. 

The bill "restores American energy leadership ... [and] "makes it easier to build things in America," said House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Fix Permitting

In a March 27 appeal, a 200-member coalition of business and construction trade groups, and unions, asked Congress to take action on permitting by the end of the summer.

“It should never take longer to get a permit than it does to build a project,” Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said. It is “long past time for Congress to act.”

Federal permits take an average of 4.5 years to 7.5 years to be approved, said the group, which included the Associated Builders and Contractors, Associated General Contractors, American Society of Civil Engineers, the operating engineers union and a pipeline builders group.

Streamlining the permitting process is essential to realize the full benefits of the $1.2-trillion infrastructure law, Tony Smith, executive director of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said in a statement.

Democrats have their own plan for reducing time needed for permitting—by adding resources to affected agencies, such as the U.S. Interior Dept., to speed up completions of clean energy projects. 

In a March 15 letter, a group urged Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to use added funding, allocated but not yet approved, to add staff to complete environmental reviews of construction and operations plans for offshore wind projects and help “de-risk” the sector. 

“Without additional resources alongside improvements to siting and permitting processes, the projects will stall and may be abandoned altogether,” the lawmakers said, though they also asked Haaland to raise funding for energy permitting and environmental reviews for some fossil fuel projects.

Jurisdiction Shifts

The House legislation also would limit a President’s authority to block cross-border energy projects and would give agencies such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and U.S. Energy Dept. jurisdiction over cross-border transmission lines. 

The bill would eliminate a state’s authority to block energy projects unless they are based solely on impairments to water quality. “We want to make sure permits are based on water quality. [The bill] prevents states from weaponizing permitting,” Rep. Garrett Graves (R-La.), said. 

Other provisions would limit Presidential authority to ban fracking to extract oil and gas and enable the sale of LNG to nations without a free trade agreement with the U.S. The bill would require the Interior Dept. to hold a minimum of four sales per year in nine states for oil and gas drilling rights and require it to assess potential impacts on the U.S. mineral supply chain before barring mining on federal lands.  

"Now is the time to strengthen our energy security and expand domestic manufacturing—both to reduce our dependence on bad actors and to ensure we can support our allies," said National Association of Manufacturers CEO Jay Timmons, adding that the bill "would help us achieve these goals by speeding up critical energy, infrastructure and manufacturing investments, while we continue our commitment to environmental stewardship.” 

But Evan Chapman, Clean Air Task Force federal policy director, said it "would move the United States further away from our climate and clean energy goals.” He added that while the group supports "the need to maintain energy reliability and ... boost U.S. energy security and leadership, this bill is a step in the wrong direction."

American Council on Renewable Energy CEO Gregory Wetstone called for broad support of a bill to boost needed energy infrastructure expansion. "Permitting reform should be designed to rapidly accelerate interstate transmission deployment, and we remain hopeful Congress can negotiate a bipartisan, bicameral solution this year,” he said.