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What to watch during "energy week"

Mar 18, 2024
Photo illustration of oil spilling out of a barrel, oil pipelines and abstract shapes.

Photo illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios.

The GOP's "energy week" could underscore divisions over the Clean Water Act in the Hill's permitting debate.

Why it matters: The GOP's push to overhaul longstanding provisions of that law has confounded bipartisan permitting talks for years. The biggest bill on the energy week agenda is yet another marker in that fight.

  • If Democrats want transmission deployment provisions in a larger permitting bill, Republicans will seek Clean Water Act reforms and provisions that make it easier to put pipelines in the ground.

Driving the news: The House plans to vote on as many as six energy-related bills this week.

  • The most substantive is a suite of bills from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to tweak several sections of the Clean Water Act.
  • Also on the agenda is Rep. Gary Palmer's legislation to repeal the IRA's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund — a program ripe for targeted repeal efforts by Republicans if they take Congress in 2025.
  • Other measures would denounce carbon taxes and President Biden's energy policy, block a national fracking ban and halt Interior's overhaul of oil and gas leasing.

Zoom in: The T&I water bill, approved out of committee in January, rolls together five pieces of GOP legislation.

  • It would limit EPA's authority to veto section 404 permits (long a pipeline permitting sticking point) and put time restrictions on groups seeking to challenge them in court.
  • The bill would also change National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits and shield companies from liability if they're following the terms of those permits.
  • Senate Republicans have notably suggested other changes to the law in their own permitting proposals.

Between the lines: The anti-carbon tax vote could also show how climate politics have changed post-IRA.

  • When the House voted on this in 2018, six Republicans voted no, and seven Dems voted in favor (notably Henry Cuellar and Kyrsten Sinema).
  • We expect a bit of interesting crossover this time, too, but these days, carbon taxes are as dead in the GOP as they've ever been.
  • Just one of the Republican "no" votes from 2018 — Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick — is still in Congress.

Our thought bubble: This week won't exactly be a huge first step on permitting or IRA repeal, which raises questions about whether Congress will be able to do either of those things.

  • The floor votes will signal what Republicans might do with control of Congress in 2024, but don't expect them to lead to real legislating.
  • Notably left out of energy week: Cathy McMorris Rodgers' hydropower permitting bill, which advanced in committee last year but has yet to see a floor vote.
  • That bill's a marker in bipartisan hydro talks on the Hill and is one of a few bills that jibe with CMR's "sector by sector" approach to permitting.

What's next: We'll see whether any of these votes get delayed by GOP squabbling — or by votes on the next minibus, with the spending deadline set for Friday.

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