Can Republican Power in the House Make a Difference on Energy?
Top lawmakers and energy experts weigh in on American oil and gas, the role of oversight, and more
After talking up a “Red Wave” throughout 2022, the Republican Party ultimately failed to take the Senate in November. Yet, the GOP’s narrow majority in the House of Representatives will let them exercise more influence than they did during the first two years of Joe Biden’s presidency.
Judging by opinion research, energy-related issues are major priorities for the American people, though falling prices at the pump may have lessened their significance in recent months.
October polling from the Pew Research Center found that the price of gasoline and energy was the second-most concerning issue for registered voters, topped only by the price of food and consumer goods. Those numbers are also heavily shaped by the cost of energy for producers and retailers.
Of the people surveyed, 69 percent said they were “very concerned” about energy and gas prices.
A customer pumps gas at an Exxon gas station on May 10, 2022, in Miami, Florida. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
Gallup polling throughout 2022 revealed that fuel/oil prices were generally the third largest economic problem listed by the Americans they surveyed. Problem No. 1, “high cost of living/inflation,” and problem No. 2, “economy in general,” are both influenced by the cost, accessibility, and reliability of energy.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), now negotiating with holdouts in his caucus as he seeks to become majority leader, made energy a key element of his “Commitment to America.”
In it, he pledged to “make America energy independent and reduce gas prices.” He vowed to “maximize production of reliable, cleaner, American-made energy and cut the permitting process time in half to reduce reliance on foreign countries, prevent rolling blackouts, and lower the cost of gas and utilities.”
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington on Nov. 29, 2022. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Under a Democratic presidency, and without control of the Senate, House Republicans will face an uphill battle. The entrenched power and semi-independence of the administrative state, where the Biden administration has made many of its biggest moves on energy and climate, may also prove hard to overcome.
Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the pro-fossil fuel American Energy Alliance, told The Epoch Times on Dec. 15 that House Republicans are “going to have to remember that, unfortunately, a lot of people don’t really know the depth of the problems we’ve got energy-wise, because they haven’t been told by the media they watch.”
All the same, control of the House gives the GOP room to maneuver on bipartisan priorities, such as nuclear power, as well as authority over appropriations. At the very least, they can slow down the Biden agenda.
“Even though their proposals will be DOA [dead on arrival] in a Democrat Senate, the GOP needs to lay out its vision and policy priorities for the next presidential cycle in 2024,” said Marc Morano, the proprietor of the website Climate Depot, in a Dec. 21 email interview with The Epoch Times.
What’s more, House Republicans could end up steering their Senate colleagues in a more conservative direction on various issues, energy among them.
An early sign of this is McCarthy’s opposition to the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) supported it.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (I-Ariz.) recent flight from the Democrats, along with Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) moderate stance on energy, could also leave open opportunities.
Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, then a Democrat and now an Independent, speaks at a news conference after the Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act at the Capitol Building in Washington on Nov. 29, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
To assess what newly empowered House Republicans can actually deliver, The Epoch Times reached out to the representatives currently serving as minority leaders of energy-related committees and subcommittees. Some will almost certainly continue in their leadership roles during the upcoming Congress; others may not.
The Epoch Times also contacted multiple energy experts.
One anonymous energy industry insider voiced a worry shared by many Republicans and fellow travelers.
When faced with the responsibility to lead, a GOP majority could, he warned, be like “the dog who caught the bus.”
American Energy Makes GOP Wish List
The people who spoke with The Epoch Times agreed that boosting the production of U.S. oil, gas, and coal was a top priority, in line with McCarthy’s Commitment to America.
It’s top of mind for Kish, a former Congressional committee staffer.
“There has never been an administration that has so abruptly and directly attacked energy,” he said.
“The incoming House GOP needs to lay out a vibrant, pro-energy, America-first energy policy largely modeled after former President Trump’s energy policies,” said Morano, another veteran of Congressional staff roles.
An oil refinery displays an American flag in Wilmington, Calif., on Sept. 21, 2022. (Allison Dinner/Getty Images)
Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas), currently the ranking member of the Energy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, recalls a landmark moment for American oil and gas before Trump hit the White House.
It was when then-President Barack Obama scuttled the proposed Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and the United States.
“Of course, Trump opened it back up. And what happens? Biden shuts it back down,” he told The Epoch Times in a Dec. 19 interview.
Weber is working on a bill to prevent a similar incident in the future, by giving Congress some authority over transnational infrastructure projects like that pipeline.
The rapid depletion of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) under Biden also troubles Weber and many other Republicans. It has been drained to levels last seen in the mid-1980s.
A particularly influential bill from February 2022, the American Energy Independence from Russia Act, would require a plan for additional federal oil and gas leasing to be released before allowing more withdrawals from the SPR.
It would also approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Weber and 140+ other House Republicans co-sponsored it.
Yet, that legislation, like anything else from the House, would ultimately have to be signed into law by Biden.
As he discussed various bills that are meant to unlock American energy, Weber often repeated a favorite line: “Don’t hold your breath.”
Randy Weber (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy, reads his opening statement at a congressional hearing titled “Cybersecurity for Power Systems,” on Oct. 21. (Gary Feuerberg/The Epoch Times)
Even if Republican resolutions can’t reach escape velocity, “we’re going to draw attention to the fact that America is stronger when we are energy independent and energy dominant,” he said.
A spokesperson for Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), currently ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, told The Epoch Times in a Dec. 13 email that comprehensive energy legislation is one of the lawmaker’s top objectives.
Westerman is slated to chair that committee in the upcoming Congress following a formal confirmation in January.
The spokesperson said that legislation will draw in part on the Transparency and Production of (TAP) American Energy Act, introduced by Westerman and Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) in September 2022.
The TAP American Energy Act aims to bolster offshore oil and gas leasing while also speeding up an environmental review for pipelines and similar energy-related projects.
More Leverage Through Oversight
Congressional insiders agreed that oversight could be a useful tool for the Republican House, even with a Democratic presidency and Democrat-dominated Senate.
“Nothing is off the table,” said a spokesperson for Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a Dec. 21 email to The Epoch Times.
The current ranking member of that committee is Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wa.), once in the running for Trump’s Secretary of the Interior.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) speaks during a town hall event hosted by House Republicans in Washington on March 1, 2022. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
Various committees and subcommittees, including those concerned with energy-related oversight, will likely work together to get to the bottom of the country’s challenges, such as the threat of cyber warfare, natural disasters, and other hazards to the nation’s fragile grid.
Kish, of the AEA, thinks oversight hearings are one of the incoming House majority’s most effective means of addressing Biden’s energy moves–particularly ones that many Republicans see as conflicting, such as the push for mineral-intensive new technologies even while some domestic mining projects are slowed down or halted entirely.
The Energy and Commerce Committee spokesperson emphasized the committee’s work on oversight. One example is a recent letter to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm about the administration’s decision to award $200 million to a lithium battery company, Microvast Holdings, that has close ties to China.
Earlier this year, Democrats on the committee blocked their Republican colleagues’ requests for documents on a range of hot-button issues, including the SPR drawdown, the Biden administration’s push to declare a “climate emergency,” actions pertaining to the grid, and more.
“These oversight measures are a good preview of the oversight work we plan to build upon next Congress,” the spokesperson said.
In an aerial view, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve storage at the Bryan Mound site is seen in Freeport, Texas, on Oct. 19, 2022. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
In addition, McMorris Rodgers wants to use Energy and Commerce’s status as an authorizing committee to force scrutiny of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
“Congress must reclaim its authorizing authority and bring accountability to the federal bureaucracy that has become disconnected from its mission to serve ‘We the People,’” she said.
“Once we retake the gavel, Republicans will be conducting hearings and questioning agency officials in order to fully understand how American taxpayer dollars are being spent,” said the spokesperson for Westerman, the likely chair of the House Natural Resources Committee.
Weber believes oversight hearings can help members seek answers when it comes to the Biden administration’s controversial energy-related foreign policy decisions—for example, appealing to Venezuela and Saudi Arabia for oil even as U.S. hydrocarbon companies felt attacked.
On Sept. 30, just days before the Biden administration asked the Saudis to delay a production cut, Granholm left a potential export ban on the table during discussions with U.S. refiners.
President Joe Biden gives a thumbs up before boarding Air Force One to depart Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on July 15, 2022. (Abir Sultan/AFP/Getty Images)
A spokesperson for Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee’s oversight subcommittee in the 117th Congress, did not comment on the potential role of oversight in the 118th Congress.
State-level Republican officials who are battling environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) standards may also stand to gain from more action by Congress.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who recently protested against Vanguard’s utility investments because of the asset manager’s commitment to ESG-like principles, told The Epoch Times in a Dec. 21 interview that he hopes the House will hold oversight hearings focused on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), in order to challenge its actions on ESG.
“I think that Congress, whether it’s a unified Congress or just the House, will really start holding people more accountable in terms of ESG,” he said.
Bipartisan Prospects on Nuclear Power
Mark Nelson, an independent nuclear industry consultant, likes taking Europe’s anti-nuclear green policies to task on his Twitter account.
“Shutting down Europe’s carbon-free nuclear, though, is in fact done to punish people. It’s there to remind us that people are the disease, and when we take travel, heating, and consumption decisions based on cheap nuclear power we delay the cure [fewer people alive],” he wrote in one Dec. 21 post.
Steam rises from the cooling towers of the Grohnde nuclear power plant near Grohnde, Germany, on Dec. 29, 2021. It shut down the next day. (Julian Stratenschulte/dpa via AP)
Things are different on this side of the Atlantic.
“Nuclear energy is one of the only truly bipartisan issues in the United States right now, where both sides are absolutely lockstep with each other,” he said in a Dec. 18 interview with The Epoch Times.
While Republican support for nuclear power has been fairly consistent over the decades, many Democrats have been swayed to atom splitting out of a concern with carbon emissions. By that metric and many others, nuclear power is one of the greenest energy sources out there.
Nelson’s perspective was shared by the E&C committee spokesperson, who described nuclear power as one of a few areas of potential collaboration across the aisle.
Weber drew attention to his work on the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA), passed under President Donald Trump.
NEICA and a related Trump-era law, the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA), were intended to jumpstart the next generation of American nuclear power—NEICA through its backing for Department of Energy research, and NEIMA by requiring the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to develop agile licensing processes for advanced reactors.
“Now we’ve got to get the money before the Department of Energy will do more research on the next round of nuclear reactors,” Weber said. Nelson voiced a similar concern with inadequate test reactor funding.
Weber acknowledged the value of some recent Democratic actions on the energy source—in 2022’s Schumer-Manchin bill, for example, the tax credits for existing nuclear plants and advanced reactors.
“Let’s give credit where credit’s due,” the Republican nuclear hawk said.
Yet, even with the bipartisan momentum on nuclear, serious challenges persist in the country where much of the physics research, engineering, and commercial innovation behind the energy source originated.
Those who spoke with The Epoch Times lamented the United States’s relative decline, especially when compared with both Russia and China.
“In nuclear, it’s clear that the United States in so many ways has fallen far from its former leadership role,” Nelson said.
Nuclear power plants, Kori 1 (R), and Shin Kori 2 are seen in Ulsan, South Korea, on Feb. 5, 2013. (Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo)
“Almost none of the reactors being built anywhere in the world are from America. Russia and China have tons of projects going not only in their own country, but around the world,” he added.
Even with the passage of NEIMA and similar legislation, the plodding pace of the NRC is a concern for nuclear energy advocates across the ideological spectrum.
The left-leaning Breakthrough Institute wrote that the NRC’s draft proposal to regulate advanced nuclear reactors in line with NEIMA “largely replicates the failed licensing rules that have hobbled the legacy nuclear industry for decades.”
“The regulator can be reformed to be faster while keeping its independence,” Nelson said.
Climate Policy and Mining
Nuclear power is a bright spot for those seeking cooperation in a divided Congress.
By contrast, differing perspectives on climate change—about its existence, its importance, man’s role in causing it, and the best strategies for addressing it—are a clear dividing line between Democrats and Republicans.
Those clashing views even extend to the names of the House’s climate-related committee, established in 2019 by outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
While Democrats call it the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, the Republicans’ website drops the word “crisis.”
U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), joined by members of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, delivers remarks during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington on June 30, 2020. (Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)
The Hill has reported that Republicans are going to eliminate the committee. Its ranking member, Graves, described it as “a creature of Pelosi.”
A preview of at least some House Republicans’ approach to climate comes from the “Securing Cleaner American Energy Agenda,” produced by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
It includes bills said to advance nuclear energy, hydropower, hydrogen energy, natural gas, and oil. Another piece of legislation would guarantee Department of Energy loans to further the development of carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies.
“This package will address climate change risks and spur the development and deployment of clean energy infrastructure without the ‘pie-in-the-sky’ mandates, regulations, and federal government spending dominating the climate and infrastructure plans of President Joe Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the Democrats,” the agenda’s website states.
Texas Congressman Weber pointed out that his state is a national leader on wind and solar, with the former supplying about a fifth of its total electricity.
Wind turbines in Papalote, Texas, on June 15, 2021. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Yet, other Republicans strike a more critical tone on climate, particularly the taxpayer-subsidized push for non-nuclear alternatives to coal, oil, and natural gas.
Morano, of Climate Depot, told The Epoch Times that McConnell—and especially McCarthy—fall short “when it comes to reframing the climate narrative.”
“The GOP needs to lead the way in labeling solar and wind as: Not green. Not clean. And they serve as China’s empowerment policy for the West,” he said.
McMorris Rodgers made a similar point in a recent interview.
“I’m very concerned about us becoming reliant upon supply chains that are controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. They control supply chains around wind, solar, and batteries, and that is a dangerous future for us,” she said, as quoted by The Washington Post.
Skepticism on climate change, or at least on measures supposedly necessitated by climate change, is a feature of the Republican base.
Gallup polling from 2021 showed that only 11 percent of Republicans think global warming is a serious threat to them during their lifetimes. That’s against 67 percent of Democrats and 43 percent of independents.
While Democrats argue that Republicans are undermining the transition to a “green economy,” Republicans complain that Democrats are making it harder to mine and process the minerals and elements for the underlying technologies (those that can be obtained in the United States, anyway.)
The spokesperson for Westerman highlighted a bill, the Securing America’s Mineral Supply Chains Act, that Westerman hopes to advance in the new Congress.
It would overhaul the permitting process for mining on federal land. Additionally, it would lay the groundwork for a strategic uranium reserve program.
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reform, a perennial Republican concern, is at the core of another Westerman-supported bill, the Building U.S. Infrastructure through Limited Delays and Efficient Reviews Act.
Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minn.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources of the House Natural Resources Committee, has permitting in his sights too. He’s on track to lead that subcommittee in a few weeks.
Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minn.) in an interview on NTD’s Capitol Report on April 28, 2022. (NTD/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)
A Stauber-sponsored bill from several months ago also seeks to expedite permitting. The Permitting for Mining Needs Act would, among other things, place a time limit on judicial review of federal approvals related to a mining project.
In a recent Twitter thread, Stauber vehemently criticized the Biden administration’s move to finance mining in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, even as American mining projects face what he sees as excessive obstacles.
“It’s well-documented that the mining industry in the Democratic Republic of the Congo uses child slave labor,” Stauber wrote.
‘Energy Blackouts Should Be Named’
The Biden administration and Senate Democrats could hinder much of the energy agenda from House Republicans. No matter what happens with permitting, though, colorful rhetoric won’t be off limits to enterprising lawmakers.
Morano, of Climate Depot, had a creative suggestion.
“Just like we name hurricanes, energy blackouts should be named—for anti-energy policies, politicians, and ideas that encourage and enable blackouts,” he said.
A neighborhood experiences a power outage after winter weather caused electricity blackouts in San Marcos, Texas, U.S. on Feb. 16, 2021. (Mikala Compton/Reuters)
The Epoch Times reached out to McCarthy and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), who is challenging McCarthy for the House Majority Leader position. Neither responded to multiple requests for comment.