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GOP takes up arms against Biden’s energy, climate spending plan

Republicans are readying a package of energy bills that would roll back some environmental protections and speed permitting

Shortly after the budget request was released, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., touted a coming package of GOP-sponsored energy bills to increase fossil energy output, narrow environmental safeguards and speed approval of energy projects.
Shortly after the budget request was released, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., touted a coming package of GOP-sponsored energy bills to increase fossil energy output, narrow environmental safeguards and speed approval of energy projects. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Joe Biden’s budget request would allocate billions of dollars for climate and low-carbon energy programs just as Republicans press for less environmental protection and more fossil fuel production, muddying the outlook for potential areas of agreement.

In a broad proposal for fiscal 2024 released Thursday, Biden administration officials cast climate change as a global destabilizing threat and fossil energy as an economic yoke to the public and a collective boon to strongmen, like Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Samantha Power, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the administration’s $70.5 billion request for the State Department, USAID and other international programs would help blunt global hunger, driven in part by climate change. 

“As Putin’s invasion and climate change further exacerbate the global food crisis, we will continue to help smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa resist drought, providing seeds, fertilizer and climate-resilient technology and farming techniques,” Power said.

GOP package

Shortly after the budget request was released, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., touted a coming package of GOP-sponsored energy bills to increase fossil energy output, narrow environmental safeguards and speed approval of energy projects.

[Scalise: Broad GOP energy package to House floor this month]

In a matter of hours, the differing approaches from Democratic and Republican leaders underscored the difficulty in passing significant energy or environmental legislation in a Congress riven by partisan divides.

The Energy Department would get $52 billion, an increase of $6.2 billion from current spending levels, under Biden’s request, and $11.9 billion of that total would go to renewable energy programs and projects. 

Separately, the department’s science office would get $8.8 billion, an increase of $680 million or 9 percent, from enacted spending levels, according to a White House budget office summary, and $9.4 billion would be set aside for “developing innovative technologies” that wean the economy from fossil fuels.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the president’s request would help save the public money. “He gets that winning the clean energy race means good-paying jobs, lower utility bills and that we are not counting on Russia or Saudi Arabia for oil or natural gas,” Murray told reporters.

Across federal departments, officials pitched zero- or low-carbon programs as money-saving, job-creating no-brainers.

The White House stipulated money for the Federal-Aid Highway program, which would get $60.1 billion total in discretionary and 2021 infrastructure law funds, would go toward building a national network of electric vehicle chargers “to achieve the president’s climate and ‘Made in America’ goals.”

Mitch Landrieu, senior adviser to Biden and infrastructure coordinator for the White House, told reporters money from the infrastructure law and funding from Congress for the Federal Transit Administration provided 1,100 new zero-emission buses last year, nearly doubling the national fleet. 

The Department of Homeland Security request contains $123 million for zero-emission vehicles and charging infrastructure, according to the department.

Landrieu said the U.S. government will continue to invest in emission-reducing transportation options to “build towards a clean economy” and create jobs.

Fossil tax breaks

Under Biden’s proposal, a set of 13 tax credits for oil, gas, mining, pipeline and other companies from extractive industries would be wiped off the federal tax code. Tax incentives for fossil fuel companies are worth billions. An analysis by the Tax Policy Center, a project of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, placed the cost of tax subsidies for oil, gas and coal at $11.5 billion over a five-year period, from 2019 to 2023.

“He breaks the grip of ‘Big Oil’, which raked in record-breaking profits and won’t help with the environmental and economic toll of climate change,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said of Biden and the president’s budget. “Ending those tens of billions in tax breaks is long, long overdue.”

Last year, the global oil and gas industry made a record $4 trillion in profits, according to Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency.

[War in Ukraine has reshaped global energy markets]

The first 10 House bills of a Congress are typically reserved for priorities of the speaker. Last Congress, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., chose a bill about overhauling elections, political spending, campaigning and the federal government for the top slot.

McCarthy picked the GOP package of energy and permitting-overhaul legislation as his top priority for this Congress.

“The Biden administration has kneecapped American energy production, and endlessly delayed critical infrastructure projects,” McCarthy said Thursday when he announced the bill. “Democrats’ misguided policies increased costs for every American and jeopardized our national security – and they’ve made the rest of the world more reliant on dirtier energy from Russia and China.”

The legislation will get a vote on the House floor in the last week of March, Republicans said. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, is the sponsor.

Speeding up

The bill would accelerate construction of energy, mining and infrastructure projects, said Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee. “Republicans are delivering on our promises to the American people by unleashing the full power of our energy and minerals, cutting permitting delays, creating jobs, growing our economy and dealing a blow to China and Russia,” Westerman said. 

More oil and gas is produced in the U.S. than in any single country, and the pace at which the Interior Department has granted federal drilling permits during the first two years of the Biden administration is comparable to its pace during the same window of the Trump administration. 

Biden urged Congress to “more than quadruple U.S. international climate financing, including $3 billion for his global plan to brace against and respond to the impacts of rapid climate change.”

He also requested $1.6 billion for the Green Climate Fund, a U.N.-backed pool of money from multiple countries used to help low-income nations address global heating, and $1.2 billion for the Clean Technology Fund, held at the World Bank. Both have received little funding from Congress in recent years, in comparison to what Biden requested.

Rep. Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, criticized the request and foreign climate spending.

“The budget proposal boasts about spending taxpayer dollars on international climate slush funds and vaguely defined environmental justice programs, while shortchanging the basic research that has been proven to advance our economy, lower energy prices and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Lucas said.

Under the proposal, a widely popular program with bipartisan backing would get a cash infusion: the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. It would get $4.1 billion for fiscal 2024, $111 million more than current spending levels.

Taken together, departments’ requests spotlight how climate change is destabilizing the world, including in the Arctic, a region warming faster than any other on Earth. For its part, the Coast Guard would get funding to buy a “commercially available” icebreaker ship that could be used to “ensure that the United States has greater access to support vulnerable communities in a region that is facing significant impacts from climate change.”

Valerie Yurk contributed to this report.

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