WASHINGTON -- Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are preparing to introduce a sweeping energy proposal this week after one committee, led by Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman, advanced a key component related to project permits and lease sales involving federal lands.
The House Natural Resources Committee advanced the TAPP American Resources Act on Thursday in a 24-19 vote along party lines. Republican members united behind the legislation, contending it will allow the United States to utilize its full energy portfolio, as Democratic members questioned if the House's majority party is taking climate change and environmental risks seriously.
The committee's action is an important step for House Republicans as legislators look to fulfill the energy independence item of their Commitment to America legislative agenda. The TAPP American Resources Act is one of multiple bills making up the Lower Energy Costs Act, an extensive package addressing domestic energy production. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, provided other language for the measure.
Westerman will join House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., and Republican committee leaders this week in introducing the comprehensive measure, with Republicans hoping to vote on the bill in the last week of March.
The TAPP American Resources Act -- itself the combination of various energy measures -- would require the Department of the Interior to resume quarterly onshore and offshore lease sales involving energy development projects and end the moratorium on new coal leases. It streamlines the permitting process for projects by reducing reviews given low-impact actions and establishing deadlines of one year for completing a project's environmental assessment and two years for issuing an analysis of a project's environmental impact.
Legislators included language limiting the window to file litigation on an energy project to 120 days.
The proposal also would repeal increased royalty rates and fees affecting oil and natural gas development; the Inflation Reduction Act that Congress passed last August raised these rates, which Westerman argues will raise prices for consumers.
Westerman described the TAPP American Resources Act as legislation to "unleash the full potential of domestic energy" while addressing committee members last week.
"Projects in every industry -- from wind turbines to offshore oil platforms -- undergo years of duplicative, burdensome reviews which keep shovel-ready projects and American jobs on a holding pattern," the Hot Springs Republican said. "If projects are not approved to build, then jobs and livelihoods remain in limbo indefinitely."
One target of Republicans has been the National Environmental Policy Act, a 1970 law requiring the federal government to consider a project's environmental effects before making any related decisions. Republicans have sought to narrow reviews in addition to actions expediting work on projects.
Westerman has rejected arguments Republicans wish to gut the statute, contending the changes would modernize the law for the 21st century.
"The environmental review and public input process required by NEPA are some of the most important guardrails we have for making major carbon polluters like oil and gas refiners safer, cleaner and more accountable to nearby communities and our climate goals at large," Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said last week.
Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell expressed interest in working with Republicans on a bipartisan permitting measure during prior committee meetings. During last week's committee markup, she rebuked Republicans for not "advancing meaningful bipartisan solutions for the American people."
"I am a pragmatic and seasoned woman who knows there is a lot more work ahead if we are truly to strengthen our permitting process for the modern era," she said. "If we can do it collectively, Republicans and Democrats, it can serve as an important tool to combat climate change, strengthen our economy and protect our national security.
"But let me be clear: We must not, and I cannot, support proposals that roll back landmark environmental laws."
Bipartisanship will be necessary if Congress wants to send energy legislation to President Joe Biden's desk. House Republicans can only afford to lose four votes to pass any legislation without Democrats, while Democrats hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate.
Westerman has spoken to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., about passing permitting legislation during this Congress. Manchin, a centrist who isn't afraid to buck his party, pushed a permitting deal during the last Congress following the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.