Republicans push two-step deal on energy permits in debt talks

Given the time constraints to reach a deal before the government faces the risk of default, House Republicans are proposing kicking the can on the Democrats’ proposals, the aide said.

Energy policy staffers for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the White House have been meeting regularly since last week to negotiate the potential permitting elements of a deal.

“We brought this idea forward as a way to focus on things we all benefit from, and then have a commitment to work on the other stuff,” the House GOP leadership aide said. “Why would I waste my time engaging on transmission if we can’t get a deal on the stuff we all know we need?”

The White House, along with Schumer and Jeffries’ offices, did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

Some Democrats, along with clean energy and fossil fuel industry groups, have expressed some support for striking a deal with the GOP to set deadlines for reviews under NEPA, and putting guardrails on lawsuits against projects.

Democrats are also calling for a process to ensure more engagement between project developers and communities who live near proposed infrastructure before projects are built — something Republican leaders are willing to consider, the GOP aide said.

Republicans, meanwhile, have pushed to narrow the threshold for when NEPA reviews are required, based on “reasonable foreseeable” impacts.

But transmission is far and away the policy area that brings most Democrats to the table, since they say it would have the greatest impact on reducing emissions causing climate change.

Sen. Angus King of Maine, an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, said he believed proposals around transmission were worth keeping in the current round of talks.

“There are lots of well-developed transmission provisions, and I don’t know why it’s so complicated to have that be a part of it,” he said.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who’s been involved in previous rounds of permitting discussions, said Republicans would be willing to negotiate later on transmission, but said he was torn over the idea of pursuing a narrow deal focused on NEPA reforms as part of debt ceiling negotiations.

“I have a mixed feeling about whether this creates momentum or whether this lets people say, ‘We’re done. Accomplished,’” Cramer said. “But as long as there’s more to discuss that’s important to both sides, maybe it creates momentum. I do think in the transmission space there is a spot somewhere we can land.”

Convincing Democrats to accept only NEPA process reforms is likely to be difficult, the House GOP leadership aide acknowledged.

“But if we can’t get a deal on these first fundamental items, there is almost no hope of getting a deal later,” the aide said.