Congressional gridlock has come to this: for the last lawmaking session before the midterm elections, the House GOP plans to pass a bunch of bills they’ve already passed.
Legislators returned to Congress on Monday, September 8th, after a five-week break, and are scheduled to work until September 19. The current laws to fund the federal government run out on September 30, so their first order business will be passing interim funding measures to carry the government through the elections and into the next legislative session. The last time a stopgap measure was needed, conflict over Obamacare shut the government down for three weeks. This time, as E&E; News reports, the political appetite for another showdown is nowhere to be found, and the budget extension is expected to sail through Congress.
But once that’s done with, Congress must decide how to best use the rest of its time. For House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and his fellow Republicans, that apparently means repackaging a raft of measures they previously passed, on the hopes that repeating themselves enough times will make the measures more palatable to the Democrats in the Senate. The gambit has been under consideration since at least August, but a memo McCarthy released earlier in September confirmed the plan.
Specifically, the House Republicans will pass one package of 14 bills relating to the economy, and then another batch of 13 bills specifically on energy issues. The Senate, which is still controlled by the Democrats, has not voted on any of the energy 13 bills. Nor are they likely to, making this a symbolic gesture on the GOP’s part.
“With gas prices still hovering near $3.50 per gallon and energy costs siphoning too much out of families’ paychecks, we must enact policies that encourage an American energy revolution,” McCarthy said in the memo. “That is why we will send to the Senate a single, common-sense energy plan comprised of House-passed bills focusing on production, infrastructure, reliability, and efficiency.”
The package includes the Energy Consumers Relief Act (H.R. 1582), which would hand the Energy Department new powers to prevent rulemakings by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) if the former agency determined the regulations would significantly harm the economy. In fact, studies of regulatory effects actually suggest their economic benefits far outweigh their implementation costs, particularly for EPA rules which tend to come with big boosts to human health. There’s also the Northern Route Approval Act (H.R. 3), which aims to do an effective end run around the State Department and allow Transcanada to begin constructing the controversial northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. And the Electricity Security and Affordability Act (H.R. 3826) would change the technology requirements behind the recent federal rules cutting carbon emissions from existing power plants. The EPA would have to base its emission reductions on carbon capture and sequestration technology that’s been successfully demonstrated for a year on six different power plants. As the technology is no where near that developed — and the rules provide emitters with a host of other options so they don’t have to rely on CCS — the law would effectively cripple EPA’s ability to cut carbon emissions.
The rest of the package includes various bills to protect the coal industry from regulations, to expedite the export of liquefied natural gas, to make offshore drilling easier, and to speed up the construction of various hydropower dams.
Separately, the House GOP will also consider a measure to roll back a recent ruling by the EPA on which bodies of water fall under its regulatory and permitting authority. The change was meant to clarify confusion about EPA’s jurisdiction after a pair of Supreme Court rulings threw the definition of language in the Clean Water Act into doubt. The change would not actually return the agency’s jurisdiction to what it was prior to 2001, but it would re-expand its authority over most intermittent streams and wetlands near waterways, while evaluating isolated bodies of water on a case-by-case basis.
Republicans have lambasted the decision as “overreach,” and McCarthy’s memo calls it a “federal power grab” that “will have broad, negative impacts on a wide range of U.S. industries, most notably agriculture.”
Over on the Senate side of Congress, a few executive nominees may or may not be voted on during the session. The Environment and Public Works Committee will look into Jeffery Baran and Stephen Burns’ nominations by President Obama to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but when they’ll be voted on remains up in the air. The White House also nominated Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall to be the deputy secretary of the Department of Energy, and Colette Honorable — a utility regulator from Arkansas — was tapped to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But no vote for either nominee has been scheduled.
Ultimately, a pure passage of stopgap spending and nothing is probably the best environmental and climate activist could hope for. The new budgets the House GOP has cooked up for fiscal year 2015 reduce funding for both EPA and the Energy Department, and to again halt EPA’s carbon rules for existing power plants.