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House GOP gears up for big push to get major energy bill through Congress

House Republicans are putting the final touches on a major energy package encompassing nearly two dozen GOP priorities for boosting fossil fuel and clean energy production to lower prices for Americans.

They want the legislation, which they hope to pass later this month, to be more than just a messaging bill destined to die in the Democrat-run Senate. That will mean altering it as it moves through Congress to win Democratic support — a tall order for such a politically-charged issue.

“It will put a marker down of where Republican policy is,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chair Bruce Westerman, an Arkansas Republican who is the lead author of the package. “I would say it’s a starting point.”

The legislation includes more oil and natural gas drilling on federal lands and greater transparency in the federal sales of drilling leases. It also includes an overhaul of the federal permitting process to fast-track lengthy environmental reviews for energy projects of all forms, a longtime goal for energy production advocates that failed to gain traction despite several failed in the last Congress.

The GOP package would alter the bedrock of environmental law, the National Environmental Police Act or NEPA, and cap judicial review periods for lawsuits to speed up energy and critical mining projects, the latter of which is key for electric vehicle batteries.

House Republicans concede the legislation is dead on arrival with Democrats in its current form. It is already running into hurdles with Republicans in coastal states such as New Jersey and Florida who are concerned about offshore energy like oil and wind. 

Mr. Westerman said the bill will likely come to the House floor in the coming weeks with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, keeping tight control over the amendments process. That should stave off an embarrassing defeat prompted by last-minute changes that could turn off some of the Republican conference’s hard-line conservatives and tank the package.

He told reporters at the Capitol that he was working “really hard” in the committee to avoid Republican pushback. “We only have a five-vote margin on the floor. We want to get unanimous Republican support out of the committee,” he said.

As evidence of his intent for some version of his legislation to land on President Biden’s desk, Mr. Westerman said he’s already in talks with two moderate Democrats who back permitting reform: Senate Energy Committee Chair Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Rep. Scott Peters of  California.

But green activists and some Democrats are already crying foul, accusing Republicans of pandering to Big Oil and rolling back environmental protections like NEPA that they say are key to safeguarding the climate and residents near energy projects.

“This package is nothing more than Big Oil’s wish list wrapped up in a nice bow, courtesy of their allies in the House Republican caucus,” said Lori Lodes, executive director of the environmental group Climate Power. “Congressional Republicans’ sole energy plan is to enrich the oil and gas CEOs who are making billions by price gouging working families, and polluting our air, water and environment. The only place this legislation belongs is in the trash.”  

Mr. Westerman was adamant that his legislation would not destroy NEPA but rather make it work more efficiently. Overcoming environmental reviews and lawsuits for new energy projects of all forms can often cost millions of dollars and delay production by years.

“I’ll say it over and over — I don’t know if you all will write it — but we are not gutting NEPA,” Mr. Westerman said. “We’re making NEPA work. We are streamlining it. We’re going to go through the process, we just have to have a process that actually works.”

The House Natural Resources Committee will markup the Republican energy package on Thursday when the panel will begin to debate and consider amendments.