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After big energy investments, Biden must prep for GOP scrutiny

He'll face resistance on new spending and can expect oversight

Environmental activists rallied in front of the White House last year  to oppose more ocean drilling.
Environmental activists rallied in front of the White House last year to oppose more ocean drilling. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Halfway through his term, President Joe Biden can use his State of the Union address to tout billions of dollars’ worth of congressional appropriations to make the U.S. more energy self-reliant, but the window for big legislative breakthroughs is likely over with a Republican-majority House.

Biden urged Congress during his State of the Union last year to adopt his energy proposals even as he warned the public to brace for higher pump prices and heating bills because of the war-triggered scarcity of petroleum products. He also argued that federal investments in renewable energy and electrification would eventually save consumers money.

“A Russian dictator invading a foreign country has costs around the world,” Biden said, adding that he would use sales from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to buttress the oil supply. Allies would sell some of their stockpiles on the global market, lowering prices, Biden said. “These steps will help blunt gas prices here at home.”

Congress went on to pass major climate, infrastructure and technology legislation, and while gasoline prices spiked, they have since returned to prewar levels.

But weeks into the 118th Congress, that strategic reserve has been a leading topic after the House passed legislation to require the administration to develop plans to increase oil production when it sells. Another bill, which the House also passed, bans sales from the reserve to China.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., responded by floating the idea of adding more countries to that list. “What about Iran? What about Russia? We may think of adding some new countries,” he told reporters Wednesday.

[Biden may call out airlines, tout infrastructure funding at SOTU]

Last year, Biden prodded Congress to pass manufacturing and innovation laws to compete with China. Now that it has, hawkish members of Congress are scrutinizing the federal funding for links with China.

Upbraiding Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk over a $200 million grant his department gave to a battery-manufacturing company with ties to the Chinese government, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., asked how the department’s grant process works.

“Now we know that the department is funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to a company that publicly admits it is at the beck and call of the Chinese government,” Barrasso said.

Unlikely to hit Biden’s speech: an $8 billion ConocoPhillips project that climate experts call a “carbon bomb” in the pristine arctic of Alaska that his administration is poised to approve this year.

Going after oil, gas

It’s more likely the president will lambaste oil and gas companies over their record-setting profits, as he did in October when the International Energy Agency said fossil energy companies were making more money than ever.

Fossil energy supermajor Shell PLC made about $40 billion in profit in 2022, more than double what it made the previous year and the most it’s made in its corporate history of 115 years. Competitors ExxonMobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. brought in record-setting profits too – about $59 billion and $36.5 billion, respectively.

With Republican control of the House, a windfall tax on energy companies, something Democrats embraced last year, is all but guaranteed not to pass.

[Thomas Massie will wear his ticking debt clock to the State of the Union]

Before Congress passed his trio of climate- and energy-focused bills, Biden said electrifying homes, vehicles and industry would be a way to save money and address human-caused climate change.

But electric transmission projects waiting to be hooked up to the country’s power grids — the bulk of which would deliver power from renewable energy sources — are often delayed for years, partly because the federal permitting process is so time-consuming.

Might Biden make another call for a federal permitting overhaul, despite several stalled attempts? Don’t count it out.

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