Democrats are giving up an energy bargaining chip in the debt limit deal, raising questions about whether they will be able to accomplish high-priority electricity reforms.
For months, Democrats and Republicans have been working on a bipartisan package to speed up permitting for energy projects that could include provisions that both sides want.
But in the debt deal that passed the House this week, Republicans get significant energy provisions they have been pushing for, such as limits on environmental reviews.
Democrats, meanwhile, did not get their electric infrastructure buildout, a concession that could limit their leverage in future negotiations.
Some also argue that Democrats gave up too much and did not get enough on energy in the deal.
“I don’t feel that we got what I’d hoped we would get and I feel like we gave up a little more than I would’ve wanted to give up,” Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) told reporters Tuesday evening.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been working for months on a deal to speed energy projects and other infrastructure projects.
A major driver for Democrats in the negotiations is the potential to build out more power lines, which they argue is key to getting more renewable energy on the grid to fight climate change.
Republicans, meanwhile, have been pushing for more procedural changes that they say will speed up energy projects across the board. Such changes include limiting timelines that environmental analyses for projects can take and limiting how long challengers have to sue over projects.
Republicans have also released legislation that specifically bolsters oil, gas and mining.
Even after the debt deal, Republicans still see more to do and said this week that they want to play ball with Democrats to get a bipartisan deal done.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told reporters Wednesday that he sees the permitting issue going “one of two ways.”
“One way might be to check the box, we did this, and then never think about it again. The other possibility would be that we create a little bit of momentum and say, ‘OK, now let’s get serious and drill down a little bit,’” he said. “I hope it’s the latter.”
Speaking at a Republican leadership press conference, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, described the debt limit deal as giving lawmakers a “jumping point to start off again in our bipartisan talks” on permitting.
She separately told reporters that she specifically hoped to see reforms to the judicial review process.
On the House side, a spokesperson for Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) also said he hopes to get more done on the issue.
“We hope to come back to the negotiating table to get judicial review across the finish line as well, and the Dems may try to move transmission reforms as part of a bipartisan compromise,” spokesperson Rebekah Hoshiko said via email.
“Of course we can’t speak for everyone, but Chairman Westerman absolutely supports further reforms and will be looking to build a strong coalition of support,” she wrote.
However, some are skeptical that a bipartisan deal is achievable.
“There’s a bipartisan interest in pretending that there’s a broader deal,” quipped Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.).
“These guys can barely get their act together” to prevent financial disaster, he said. “There’s no way that they are going to have a conversation, much less a bipartisan conversation, about how to inject competition into power markets.”