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House GOP’s energy agenda is about supply chains

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

House Republicans’ energy agenda centers around highlighting an uncomfortable truth: Without significant changes to the world order, the energy transition could make the U.S. more vulnerable.

Why it matters: This is the key to understanding the GOP energy agenda for this Congress. It's not focused on swift climate action, like the Democratic agenda, but on ensuring national security.

The big picture: The GOP will focus on how a pivot away from fossil fuels could create fresh national security risks — and a less-secure supply chain — if the nation remains reliant on China.

  • China is a world leader in mining and manufacturing materials for batteries, solar panels and other low-carbon tech products sought after for a successful energy transition.
  • President Biden and congressional Democrats talk up energy security, too, but use that rationale to argue for aggressive investments in climate action (see: the Inflation Reduction Act).

Details: From their legislative priorities to their oversight agenda, Republicans are putting forward an all-of-the-above energy strategy that prioritizes national security while leaving room for fossil fuels and renewables.

  • Natural Resources Chair Bruce Westerman released a list of priority bills that includes the Securing America’s Mineral Supply Chain Act and American Energy Independence from Russia Act — framing resource policy as a defense issue.
  • GOP energy oversight will focus intently on China, from creating a select China committee to probing DOE funding for firms with China ties. It also includes House Oversight probes related to Hunter Biden’s private business deals.
  • Events like a recent House Energy and Commerce roundtable on “unaffordable energy costs” featured complaints about defense risks and references to the war in Ukraine.
  • Even seemingly tangential stuff, like the GOP’s anti-ESG push, can be understood through a defense lens because it highlights how financial firms impact domestic energy production, said Richard Morrison of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Zoom in: Take the House’s recent focus on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Biden tapped the reserve to help lower prices as a response to the war in Ukraine.

  • The House recently passed bills banning direct SPR sales to China and requiring the president to plan to refill the reserves. They’re all but doomed in the Senate.
  • But a GOP committee aide said the bills are part of a grander focus on handling future geopolitical crises — one that may in the future include proposals for other reserves “within the energy sphere.”
  • “What we’re really focused on is supply interruptions,” the aide said. “We’re starting with crude oil here, but stay tuned.”
  • Republicans support continuing to fund a domestic uranium reserve. And Rep. Byron Donalds had a bill for a cobalt reserve last Congress.

Between the lines: Some of the GOP policy proposals on energy security would have potential climate side benefits, like on permits and support for mining.

  • “Where Republicans and Democrats are coming together, even if they’re using different language on it and goals in total, [it’s that] there’s a need to at least shore up American energy security,” said Drew Bond, president of the right-aligned climate group C3 Solutions.

What we’re watching: Whether the House GOP’s energy defense focus can help their proposals land with moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin and recent independent Kyrsten Sinema.

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