Meet the GOP leaders in charge of critical House environmental committees

The US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023.

Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Following the midterm elections in November, President Joe Biden faces a GOP-controlled House of Representatives largely opposed to the administration’s climate change and clean energy policies and efforts to curb the country’s dependence on fossil fuel production.

Although Republicans have a slim majority in the House, the newly GOP-led committees have already started to launch oversight of the government’s climate agenda and have unveiled legislation aimed to maintain or increase fossil fuel production.

It’s unlikely that Republicans will advance major legislation to the president’s desk, but they will conduct oversight hearings on climate and energy legislation and attempt to redirect funding for climate programs under the historic Inflation Reduction Act.

Meet the three Republicans who are now leading key House environmental and climate committees:

Bruce Westerman, chair of House Committee on Natural Resources

Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., speaks during a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on the Save Our Sequoias Act, that aims to protect the trees from wildfires on Thursday, June 23, 2022.

Tom Williams | Cq-roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

House Republicans selected Westerman to lead the committee that oversees the Interior Department and the Forest Service and plays a role in dictating policy on issues like mineral resources, wildlife conservation, mining and irrigation.

Westerman, a representative for Arkansas’s 4th Congressional District, has a background in engineering and is a licensed forester. He’s argued the country should focus on advancing technology such as nuclear power and carbon sequestration to address climate change, rather than aggressively limiting the country’s fossil fuel production. He’s also introduced legislation to plant 1 trillion trees globally by 2050 in order to pull carbon out of the atmosphere.

As the Natural Resources Committee chair, Westerman said he would focus on conducting oversight of the Interior Department’s proposed five-year plan for new offshore oil and gas leases in federal waters. The proposal would block all new drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans within U.S. waters but allow some lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and the south coast of Alaska.

“We’re going to be using a lot of oil and gas for the foreseeable future,” Westerman said in a phone interview with CNBC. “Under this administration, they have attacked U.S. production on federal land. That is bad policy, it’s not following the law, and we plan to have oversight.”

Westerman also said he’s open to working with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat, on bipartisan permitting reforms for the country’s energy projects. Such legislation includes Westerman’s Building U.S. Infrastructure through Limited Delays and Efficient Reviews (BUILDER) Act, which aims to speed up the review process for energy projects under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“I’ve spoken to Manchin a couple of times — he is willing to work on commonsense solutions,” Westerman said.

While the Natural Resources Committee is one of the most influential panels for environmental and climate policy, the GOP’s agenda will likely be limited by the Biden administration and the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Domestic critical mineral production could be an area where Democrats and Republicans might work together. Westerman has called for expanding mining to collect minerals necessary for electric vehicles and other clean energy sources like lithium, copper, cobalt and nickel, arguing that doing so will boost U.S. energy security and limit the country’s dependence on Chinese supply chains.

But Westerman has also emphasized that the U.S. is focusing too much on EV production as a climate solution and he is opposed to the idea of curbing fossil fuel development, both of which are key components of the Biden administration’s climate agenda.

“We need a realistic approach to energy and the environment to address climate issues,” he said. “I want to focus on policies and programs that actually work.”

Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of House Committee on Energy and Commerce

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) during a House Energy and Commerce Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill on April 2, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Zach Gibson | Getty Images

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who represents the fifth district of Washington state, is leading the committee at the center of GOP plans to pass energy legislation and conduct oversight of the president’s climate agenda.

Rodgers, who opposed the president’s Inflation Reduction Act, has argued that Democrats are moving forward with the clean energy transition too quickly, making the country more reliant on China for technology like solar panels and EV batteries.

She’s introduced legislation that would limit the drawdown of petroleum in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve until the Energy Department develops a plan to increase the percentage of federal lands leased for oil and gas production.

As the Energy and Commerce Committee chair, Rodgers has supported oversight plans that involve investigating climate spending under the IRA as well as legislative plans focused on streamlining permitting to modernize energy infrastructure and promoting carbon capture, nuclear power, natural gas and hydropower.

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For instance, Rogers has highlighted concerns over a Department of Energy loan program aimed at advancing clean energy technology not yet funded by the private sector. The program will be expanded under the IRA.

“The Energy and Commerce Committee is at the center of solving the most important issues facing hardworking Americans – lowering costs, promoting free speech, and preserving free markets,” Rodgers said in a statement.

Earlier this month, the committee reviewed 17 energy bills, including those that would boost mining and oil and gas drilling, curb taxes on the fossil fuel industry and roll back climate provisions under the IRA.

The actions include repealing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, a $27 billion program designed to finance energy-saving projects, as well as eliminating the IRA’s Methane Emission Reduction Program, which imposes a federal fee on methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

It’s unlikely, however, that Republicans will have success changing or repealing climate programs under the IRA, since the president has the authority to veto congressional efforts to change climate-spending provisions.

Frank Lucas, chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, is interviewed by CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images in his Rayburn Building office on Thursday, January 26, 2023.

Tom Williams | Cq-roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

Rep. Frank Lucas, a fifth-generation Oklahoman who operates a farm and cattle ranch, is the new chair of the committee that has jurisdiction over key federal scientific research and development as well as authority over research activities at agencies like the Department of Energy, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Weather Service and the EPA.

Lucas has said the committee would focus on issues including securing the supply chain for advanced technologies, renewing U.S. leadership in space and aeronautics and researching ways to make domestic energy cleaner.

“We’ll be focusing on promoting innovative technologies to facilitate our clean energy transition,” Lucas told CNBC. “Our goal is to make American energy cleaner, more affordable and more reliable. So every energy source and technology pathway is on the table in our effort to reduce emissions.”

Lucas has introduced legislation that would make the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — the agency that forecasts weather, monitors storms and researches the impacts of climate change — an independent agency rather than a part of the Commerce Department. The bill would require Democrats’ support to pass.

Lucas said the committee would also conduct “robust oversight” of the spending being distributed to advance the country’s clean energy sector.

“We’ll focus on helping fossil fuels become cleaner and more efficient now, investing in battery storage and other tools to make renewable sources like wind and solar energy more reliable and supporting advanced technologies for nuclear and hydrogen,” Lucas said.

The previous chair of the committee, the now-retired Lamar Smith, R-Texas, had repeatedly questioned the science of climate change and accused federal researchers of manipulating climate research.

In contrast, Lucas has acknowledged the threat of disasters like drought and heat waves that are growing worse with climate change, but has resisted moving to curb fossil fuel production to address the problem.



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