WASHINGTON — Alaska Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola voted against a Republican-led energy package aimed at spurring energy production on public lands, saying the measure’s “overarching intent was very good but the particulars are not so good.”
The bill, dubbed the Lower Energy Costs Act, passed the House 225 to 204 with four Democrat defections. The measure has no prospects in the Democrat-controlled Senate, but makes good on House Republicans’ campaign commitment to pass legislation that seeks to address domestic energy production and high gasoline prices.
The 175-page, wide-ranging measure intends to expedite permitting timelines for infrastructure projects by lowering standards on environmental reviews. Among other items, the bill also mandates that the Department of the Interior annually hold at least four oil and gas lease sales in the state of Alaska and a minimum of two offshore oil and gas lease sales in the Alaska region of the Outer Continental Shelf.
Peltola raised concerns that the bill rolls back parts of the Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats’ signature $370 billion climate legislation, that encourage clean energy development.
“I think that there is a desire to get onto renewables and to get more energy that is more reliable and more stable prices, and that is just inherently more stable, like solar and wind,” she said.
Peltola said despite voting against the bill, she is open to permitting reform efforts that look at that the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal regulators to consider projects’ environmental impacts and allows for public comment.
“I think all parties are frustrated with the NEPA process,” she said. “I don’t think it’s reasonable to have to spend 10 years on the permitting process, and this holds true for renewable projects as well. This conversation is just about as much about renewable projects as it is about petroleum projects.”
Peltola said she believes in a public process, but supports considering ways the permitting process can move faster.
“If we were ever to transition to something renewable, we don’t want a clunky permitting system that’s going to take 10 years,” she said. “So that is why I support really looking at the NEPA process and seeing how we can make it better.”
Permitting reform has been a major focus for Alaska Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. Murkowski and Sullivan were two of seven Republican senators who backed a permitting reform effort led by West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin last year.
Murkowski, the former chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Wednesday that she had not thoroughly considered the House package, but is interested in reviewing the permitting provisions in the bill.
“As one who is always very engaged in the energy issues and who is keenly interested in advancing permitting priorities, I want to look at it to see, are there parts of this House bill that we might be able to generate a level of support for on this side?” Murkowski said.
Last summer, Sullivan led a resolution to repeal some federal permitting regulations, which passed the Senate. Sullivan last month said that he remains committed to reforming the permitting process, which he called “broken.”
“The dollars are coming, but if you can’t permit the project on time, the opportunity goes away,” Sullivan said in February.