Whether stopping at the gas station or receiving a home heating and electric bill, Americans are feeling the impacts of high energy prices. Recognizing the importance of energy affordability and reliability, House Republicans introduced legislation this week to unlock American energy, increase supplies and help bring energy costs down.
In the House Natural Resources Committee, members considered the Transparency and Production of American Energy (TAP) Act of 2023, introduced by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR).
Among other things, the legislation directs the Department of Interior (DOI) to follow the law by conducting quarterly lease sales of oil and gas on public lands. The legislation would also require DOI to conduct yearly lease sales for the development of clean geothermal energy.
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Federal leasing has been an issue of contention in the past few years. In his first week in office, President Biden signed an executive order that paused new oil and gas leasing on federal lands, which produce 24% of the United States’ fossil fuels. Last year the Department of Interior opened up federal oil and gas leases again and while the impacts on output were not immediately felt— it can take more than five years for new wells to begin producing oil or gas—Biden’s decision sent a clear signal to domestic energy producers that the days of American oil and gas are limited under his Administration.
Limiting American oil and gas production would have several unintended consequences on the environment, particularly in terms of global emissions. As several studies indicate, energy demand is expected to grow by 50% through 2050 which will be led largely by the developing world. Fossil fuels will be required to meet a majority of this demand. American energy plays an important role in reducing future emissions, as it is far cleaner than energy produced in other countries.
A recent study from the Institute for Energy Research has found that the United States is the world’s most environmentally-friendly major energy producer. In fact, when comparing rankings on Yale’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI), the U.S. has a score that is nearly 25% higher (and thus cleaner) than the average score of the top 20 energy-producing countries outside of America. The sheer size of U.S. oil and gas production, mixed with America’s stringent environmental standards, should make American fossil fuels a key part of global energy strategies for years to come. As the report points out:
According to analysis from the Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES), if the European Union replaced its Russian-sourced natural gas with American liquified natural gas, the EU would reduce its emissions by 72 million metric tons annually.
In addition to directing DOI to fulfill its legal obligations, the TAP Act makes important changes to our nation’s permitting system by codifying the Trump Administration’s 2020 updates to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Trump modernizations directed agencies to speed up the NEPA permitting timeline to two years (from 4.5), reduce page numbers in decisions, and consider only “reasonable alternatives” to proposed projects, rather than “all alternatives” which NEPA currently requires. In 2021 President Biden rolled back Trump’s updates, which has slowed down the NEPA permitting process and will delay the development of clean energy projects supported by the administration and environmental left.
In fact, inefficient and burdensome permitting processes disproportionately impact clean energy and transmission projects and threaten many of the projects that were funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). As Rep. Westerman stated in the hearing, “As my friends across the aisle are finding out, even though they appropriated huge sums of money in the Infrastructure [Investment] and Jobs Act, huge sums of money in the Inflation Reduction Act, those projects can’t be built for the same reason that fossil fuel projects can’t be built. It’s because of the paralysis of the permitting system.”
Included in TAP’s updates to the permitting process is a revision of the statute of limitations for litigation under NEPA to 120 days. Currently plaintiffs can suit developers for up to six years after a federal agency completes a NEPA review. This broad timeframe has allowed activist groups, many of whom do not have ties to the local community that a project is in, to weaponize the legal process and stall the development of key energy infrastructure.
Importantly, implementing these reforms is not an excuse to weaken environmental standards and environmental protection. Instead, it is supposed to give regulatory clarity to innovators and the private sector to ease burdens for progress.
To address high energy bills and energy security challenges, legislation such as the TAP Act will be crucial to strengthening domestic energy production and reducing costs for consumers. Critically, it will also improve the environment and reduce the risks of climate change.