House Republicans held a hearing Tuesday to consider several pieces of Big Oil-friendly legislation that experts warned would exacerbate the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency and leave U.S. consumers with higher energy bills.
During a joint legislative hearing titled "Unleashing American Energy, Lowering Energy Costs, and Strengthening Supply Chains," two subcommittees of the GOP-led House Energy and Commerce Committee reviewed more than a dozen bills aimed at rescinding regulations to boost the production of planet-heating and illness-inducing fossil fuels.
In the words of Marc Boom, director of federal affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the hearing's "vague and seemingly benign title disguises an oil, gas, and coal industry wish list of 17 bills to turn back the clock towards weaker environmental laws, more unbridled development of the fuels that drive climate change, and endangering communities across the country."
The Republican lawmakers in charge of the panels acknowledged the need to expand wind, solar, and other clean power technologies but made little effort to hide their essentially pro-fossil fuel and deregulatory agenda, repeatedly contrasting renewable energy and reliable energy in a bid to discredit the former while attacking bedrock safeguards such as the Clean Air Act.
"Rush-to-green energy policies—both state and federal—have curtailed reliable energy and infrastructure, resulting in everything from blackouts to spiking prices," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy Rodgers (R-Wash.) claimed in her opening statement, reviving right-wing myths that renewable energy sources—not Texas' isolated, deregulated, and fossil fuel-dependent grid—were to blame for the state's deadly power outages in February 2021 and that President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats' policies—not oil giants' profiteering from Russia's war on Ukraine—are to blame for skyrocketing gas prices.
"The committee's priority still appears to be cutting taxes on companies earning tens of billions in windfall profits and to weaken the nation's landmark environmental laws that protect Americans from their pollution."
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), chair of the Subcommittee on Energy, Climate, and Grid Security, called for "restoring American energy dominance." Once again neglecting to mention Big Oil's ongoing price-gouging and stock buyback binge, Duncan blamed Biden for "making energy unaffordable and less reliable for American consumers" even though the current president has approved drilling permits on public lands and waters at a faster clip than his notoriously pro-fossil fuel predecessor.
Not to be outdone, Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), chair of the Subcommittee on Environment, Manufacturing, and Critical Materials, slammed Biden's so-called "war on affordable and reliable energy" and advocated for "removing some of the red tape and delays that can prevent constructing new critical energy projects, keep capital on the sidelines, and kill innovation dead in its tracks."
Republican lawmakers have made it seem as if "oil, gas, and coal companies are actually the victims of government oppression and overreach," Boom noted. "The committee's priority still appears to be cutting taxes on companies earning tens of billions in windfall profits and to weaken the nation's landmark environmental laws that protect Americans from their pollution."
The reality, wrote Boom, is that "the United States is currently the number one producer of oil and gas in the world (also still the number one contributor to historical GHG emissions). The companies behind these fuels have enjoyed more than a century of government subsidies, are reaping record profits, and are fighting the transition toward clean energy that we need to strengthen America's economic and national security, create millions of new jobs, and prevent catastrophic climate change."
In contrast to her Republican colleagues on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.) argued Tuesday that "to make America truly energy independent, we must break our addiction to oil by expanding the use of clean energy technologies that can lower emissions and energy costs."
Among the GOP's proposals is a yet-to-be-unveiled resolution "expressing the sense of Congress that the federal government should not impose any restrictions on the export of crude oil or other petroleum products."
During his opening remarks, Duncan asserted that such a measure "is necessary because President Biden and Democrats on this committee have advocated for reinstating the crude oil export ban" that was originally enacted in 1975 and repealed by congressional Republicans and then-President Barack Obama in 2015.
Last year, the Biden administration floated—but never followed through on—reimposing the federal ban on crude exports, a move that progressive advocacy groups urged the White House to make to reduce U.S. fuel prices.
While Duncan claimed that "lifting the export ban... has lowered prices," research shows that the exact opposite has happened.
Since 2015, oil and gas production in the Permian Basin has soared while domestic consumption has remained flat, precipitating a massive build-out of pipelines and other infrastructure that culminated in the U.S. becoming the world's top exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG)—intensifying greenhouse gas emissions, harming vulnerable Gulf Coast communities already overburdened by pollution, and worsening pain at the pump.
Another GOP proposal discussed Tuesday—H.R. 647, "Unlocking Our Domestic LNG Potential Act of 2023," which has been introduced by Johnson—would "repeal all restrictions on the import and export of natural gas."
As Tyson Slocum, director of the Energy Program at Public Citizen, explained: "The legislation eliminates the requirement that exports and imports be 'consistent with the public interest'―a standard that has been in place to protect consumers for 85 years. This legislation would remove all routine regulatory review to ensure that exports are not increasing prices for American families."
"This agenda is not rooted in reality and would start out by undermining public protections from dangerous pollution caused by energy development."
In addition, the so-called Promoting Cross-Border Energy Infrastructure Act, legislation that has yet to be introduced, would require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) "to approve any natural gas pipeline designed to import or export natural gas to or from Canada and Mexico within 30 days of receiving the complete application," Slocum warned. "This automatic approval eviscerates the Commission’s current public interest determination, and will encourage the construction of cross-border pipelines to Mexico designed to re-export U.S.-produced natural gas from LNG terminals in Mexico."
Slocum testified at Tuesday's hearing, telling lawmakers that the GOP's argument that deregulating the shipment of fracked gas would ease household energy spending couldn't be further from the truth because "U.S. LNG exports will chase whatever country is willing to pay the highest price."
"America's record natural gas exports have come with a tragic cost," Slocum added in a statement. "American households, power producers, and other consumers are now forced to directly compete with their counterparts in Berlin and Beijing, exposing Americans to higher prices and increased volatility."
"These high prices are creating significant economic hardship for tens of millions of our families," he said. "The bills these subcommittees debate today could increase prices for consumers, incentivize mismanagement of America's energy resources, and promote excessive price-gouging by companies looking to enrich their shareholders. Congress must do better to protect consumers from energy company profiteering."
In addition to the aforementioned bills aimed at gutting or eradicating regulatory oversight of fossil fuel exports, Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee advocated for legislation that would:
- Prohibit a moratorium on fracking unless authorized by Congress (H.R. 150, "Protecting American Energy Production Act");
- Repeal the tax on methane leakage from fossil fuel infrastructure enacted in last year's Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) (H.R. 484, "Natural Gas Tax Repeal Act");
- Redefine nearly all forms of mining and energy development as "critical minerals" production while weakening labor and environmental standards;
- Expedite the construction of pipelines by undermining interstate review procedures;
- Amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit the phase-out of gasoline;
- Repeal the IRA's newly created Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, a $27 billion program to finance energy efficiency projects in low-income neighborhoods; and
- Express disapproval of Biden's decision to revoke the presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.
"That these bills are at the front of the line of the new majority's energy agenda is extremely concerning," Boom argued. "This agenda is not rooted in reality and would start out by undermining public protections from dangerous pollution caused by energy development, rather than trying to find a path where energy development, environmental protection, and community safety work together."