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Politics

The Real Point of Republicans’ Energy Week

It was mostly theater — but that doesn’t make it meaningless.

An elephant on the Capitol.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Republicans in Washington do not have a great track record executing themed policy weeks. Consider the Trump administration’s original 2017 Infrastructure Week, which had the misfortune of coinciding with former FBI Director James Comey’s live testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Or take the Infrastructure Week scheduled a few months after that, which Trump famously derailed by blaming “both sides” for the white supremacist-initiated violence in Charlottesville. Or take the Infrastructure Week after that one, when — well, you get it.

Past attempts at holding an Energy Week haven’t fared much better, and unless you’re an incredibly close reader of procedural political news, it’s possible you missed that last week was an Energy Week, too. (What else could you possibly have been thinking about?)

On the surface, Energy Week 2024 didn’t offer much worth paying attention to, which could also explain the absence of headlines. The House used the occasion to vote on four energy-related bills that have no chance of surviving in the Democrat-controlled Senate: H.R. 1023 (passed 209-204), which would repeal the Inflation Reduction Act’s $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund; H.R. 1121 (passed 229-188, with 15 Democratic “yeas”), which prevents the president from imposing a moratorium on fracking without the authorization of Congress; H.R. 6009 (passed 216-200), a Lauren Boebert-sponsored bill that would block the Interior’s update of oil and gas leasing regulations; and H.R.7023 (passed 213-205), which chips away at Clean Water Act rules. The House also passed two non-binding resolutions, one that “denounces the harmful, anti-American energy policies of the Biden administration” and another that condemns the carbon tax, which saw 10 vulnerable Democrats join Republicans voting in favor of it.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called these efforts “bogus and nasty,” so it seems pretty clear these bills are destined to die somewhere between the House and Senate chambers, and the left mostly laughed them off. California Democratic Representative Scott Peters slammed Energy Week as an “unserious messaging exercise.” The Environmental Defense Fund called the week a waste. Longtime Hill commentator Jamie Dupree treated the affair to an eye roll in his Substack, noting that three of the bills voted on last week — H.R. 1121, H.R. 1023, and H.R. 1141 — were already approved by the House as part of the Lower Energy Costs Act (H.R. 1) last spring.

House Republican Leader Steve Scalise seemed to acknowledge this overlap in a recent interview with E&E News, complaining that H.R. 1 has languished in the Senate “for about a year now” — though, as Dupree points out, the bill never actually got sent by the House to the upper chamber, a delay for which “I can’t get any Republicans on Capitol Hill to give me a straight answer,” Dupree wrote.

In other words, Energy Week appears to be a classic case of political theater. But that doesn’t mean it was all meaningless. It’s always worth asking who, exactly, is all the song and dance for?

It may not have been another unfortunate policy-week coincidence that Energy Week lined up perfectly with CERAWeek, the energy summit held in Houston, where the head of Saudi Aramco called the phase-out of oil and gas a “fantasy.” What was not included on the Energy Week slate is also revealing — for instance, Washington Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ hydropower permitting bill. Perhaps it was excluded because it would have represented an actual attempt at policy-making, which is not what Energy Week was all about?

Danielle Butcher Franz, the CEO of the American Conservation Coalition’s Action Fund, told me in an emailed statement that she thinks “Congressional Republicans were right to celebrate American energy and push for domestic energy production” last week. But she also expressed disappointment over the party missing a “critical opportunity to demonstrate that American energy is clean energy,” and called the dismissal of climate change by some of the Republican members “frustrating and unproductive.” Butcher Franz added, for example, that expanding nuclear energy, building more energy projects, and beating China could have been “conservative approaches” to lowering emissions that nevertheless were absent from the slate of energy bills.

Energy Week wasn’t entirely pointless as a policymaking exercise, though. Sure, it was largely a wink to donors, but it also marked a show of alignment on priorities at a time when Republicans’ ability to get things done could reasonably make fossil fuel interests nervous. That Energy Week’s bills also align with the goals of the Heritage Foundation-authored playbook for a Republican presidency is further reassurance that the party is pursuing policies aimed at reducing barriers to new leasing and drilling rather than repeating the chaos of the previous administration. It’s organized. It’s intentional. It’s setting the stage.

Of course, none of this will matter if Democrats and climate-moderate Republicans win elections this year. But if that doesn’t happen, well — we might end up looking back at Energy Week and wondering how we ever missed it.

Red

Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City. Read More

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