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The Climate 202

Why House Republicans are really prioritizing an energy package

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Our colleague Marianna Sotomayor, who covers the House, helped report the top of today’s edition.

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Below, we’ll cover the Sierra Club leader’s opposition to the House GOP energy package and the European Union’s expected approval of a draft law on car emissions standards. But first:

Why Republicans are really racing to pass the Lower Energy Costs Act

During the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans campaigned on a promise of lowering gas prices, which had jumped by as much as 60 cents per gallon in some regions.

Now in the House majority, they’re racing to follow through on that pledge by passing a sweeping energy package that they have dubbed the Lower Energy Costs Act.

Yet two politically inconvenient facts stand in their way. First, the national average price of gas has fallen to $3.44 per gallon, down about 31 percent from an all-time high of $5.02 in June, making it harder to frame the package as relieving pain at the pump.

Second, even if the House passes the energy package, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said the measure will be “dead on arrival” in the Senate, while President Biden on Monday said he would veto the bill if it reached his desk.

This raises the questions: Why are House Republicans making the energy package one of their biggest legislative priorities? And why are they rushing to pass the measure before lawmakers leave for the two-week Easter and Passover recess?

Here are two big reasons for the push, according to several GOP lawmakers, aides and energy lobbyists:

Gas prices will probably rise this summer

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine contributed to a spike in gas prices last year. While pump prices have since fallen amid fears of a potential recession, they tend to rise during Memorial Day weekend and the summer months, when Americans drive more frequently. 

If Republicans pass the energy package now, they will be able to argue in the coming months that they tried to help frustrated motorists, but were blocked by Senate Democrats and Biden.

“If we pass it this week, I don’t think the Senate’s going to take it up in whole,” Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) told The Climate 202 on Monday. “But gas prices will go up on Memorial Day. They always do.”

Yet it remains unclear whether the GOP energy package would lower energy prices, said Kevin Book, managing director at ClearView Energy Partners, an independent research firm.

On one hand, the package includes provisions that would reinstate suspended oil and gas leases, which would probably increase supply and lower pump prices, Book said. On the other hand, the package includes provisions that would repeal climate programs in the Inflation Reduction Act aimed at bringing down the cost of renewable energy sources.

“Will it lower energy costs writ large, on an average energy spending basis for the country?” Book said. “I can’t say for sure.”

In a statement Monday, the White House nonetheless argued the Republican energy package “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.”

Energy policy (mostly) unites the conference

Then there’s the fact that it’s difficult to forge a consensus on a whole range of topics among each of the Republicans’ five ideological caucuses, including the far-right Freedom Caucus.

Energy policy is one of the only issues that can easily unite the fractious Republican conference, according to multiple GOP leadership aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly. 

  • Other big-ticket issues, such as health care and immigration, have inspired more ideological divisions and would take up more valuable floor time, the aides said.
  • In recognition of this dynamic, energy policy was one of the main items in the “Commitment to America” agenda that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) rolled out ahead of the midterm elections.

“This is one of the top things we want to do in our commitment,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Sam Graves (R-Mo.) told The Climate 202 yesterday. “It’s good for everybody.”

Still, the amendment process has revealed some intraparty tensions.

  • Moderate Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) introduced several amendments aimed at making the energy package more climate-friendly, while Florida Republicans introduced an amendment to codify a ban on oil drilling off the coast of their state. 
  • Yet the House Rules Committee decided Monday that the chamber won’t vote on these amendments under the “structured rule” for the package, which only allows for consideration of 37 amendments out of more than 150 proposals that were submitted.
  • And Fitzpatrick on Monday said he was still undecided on the package, raising the prospects of at least one Republican defection.

“Energy and minerals permitting reform is not a slam dunk,” said Colin Hayes, founding partner at Lot Sixteen, a bipartisan lobbying and communications firm with several clients in the energy sector.

“It’s complex, and there are different views within the conference, but it’s far less divisive among Republicans than some other issues,” he said.

On the Hill

Sierra Club’s new leader lobbies against House GOP energy package

Ben Jealous, the new executive director of the Sierra Club, on Monday called on Congress to reject the Republican energy package, marking his first missive to lawmakers since taking the helm of the major environmental group.

“Instead of proposing real solutions to avert the impact of the climate crisis, H.R.1 seeks to undo and undermine the historic progress made by the last Congress on climate and environmental justice,” Jealous wrote in a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). The letter was sent on Monday and shared first with The Climate 202.

Jealous pointed to provisions in the bill that he said would weaken the National Environmental Policy Act and fast-track approval of oil and gas projects. These provisions would delay the nation’s clean-energy transition and provide giveaways to the fossil fuel industry, he said. 

“Between the oil and gas leasing that was allowed as part of the [Inflation Reduction Act] and the Willow project that was recently approved, there’s real concern that our country is steering off course to meet its carbon emission reduction goals,” Jealous told The Climate 202.

While environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters have voiced strong opposition to the GOP energy package, a broad range of other organizations have endorsed the permitting provisions in the bill, with the National Association of Manufacturers sending its own supportive letter Monday.

International climate

E.U. to approve car emissions law after deal with Germany

Ministers in the European Union on Tuesday are expected to approve a draft law that would require all cars sold after 2035 to be zero-emission, after reaching a deal with Germany over the weekend, Jennifer Rankin reports for the Guardian. 

The deal allows for the production of some combustion-engine vehicles as long as they are powered by e-fuels, which can be made from captured carbon dioxide and hydrogen and are not yet commercially available. Germany had withdrawn support for the draft law without stronger guarantees for e-fuels, citing concerns from its powerful car industry.

Although Italy and Poland oppose the draft law and Bulgaria is abstaining, a majority of E.U. countries are expected to vote in favor of the proposal on Tuesday. The law will form a critical component of the European Union’s Green Deal, which is aimed at helping the bloc eliminate carbon emissions by 2050.

In the states

What we know about Philadelphia’s drinking water after chemical spill

Thousands of gallons of acrylic paint chemicals spilled into a tributary of the Delaware River, Philadelphia’s main water supply, on March 23. (Video: John Farrell/The Washington Post)

(John Farrell/The Washington Post)

Days after thousands of gallons of acrylic paint chemicals spilled into a Delaware River tributary that serves as Philadelphia’s main water supply, local officials on Monday sought to assure residents that the tap water is safe to drink — at least for now, The Washington Post’s Amudalat Ajasa reports. 

The spill, which occurred Friday evening, prompted the release of about 8,100 gallons of a water-based latex finishing solution from the Trinseo Altuglas chemical facility in Bristol Township. It was caused by an equipment failure, according to a statement from the company.  

The full list of spilled contaminants remains unknown. But the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said toxins from the spill have not been found in drinking water intakes, while fish and wildlife have also not been noticeably affected. 

Trinseo said it is working with local, state and federal agencies to clean up the spill and test water in the area.

In the atmosphere


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