House GOP Plays Hardball on Energy, Environmentalists Aren’t Worried

House lawmakers added a series of controversial Republican proposals to energy legislation over the weekend, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are digging in their heels ahead of a conference committee to reconcile their bill with the Senate’s.

The House introduced an amendment to the Senate-passed energy bill over the weekend with a handful of Republican House bills that had drawn complaints and even veto threats from the White House. But insiders view the move as an opening bid that could lead the way to a productive bicameral negotiation.

The House amendment cuts out a provision to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a main draw for Democratic support. But supporters of the fund aren’t terribly worried, saying the upcoming behind-the-scenes negotiations matter more than anything publicly proposed ahead of time.

“That’s all posture,” said Aaron Weiss, spokesman for the Center for Western Priorities, which supports the conservation fund’s permanent reauthorization. Weiss told Morning Consult he’s not concerned with “anything happening in public on the energy bills,” referring to floor votes this week. “The real action is going to happen in the conference committee.”

The Sierra Club is also withholding judgment on whether the House amendment is a good or bad sign. The group opposes both the House and Senate bills, but has said the House bill is worse from environmentalists’ perspective. The group was one of 32 environmental organizations that sent a letter to lawmakers Tuesday, urging them to oppose the House amendment, saying it “fails to cut carbon pollution, invest in job-creating clean energy technologies, and modernize our energy infrastructure while maintaining environmental safeguards.”

Despite the Sierra Club’s opposition to the substance of the legislation, federal policy representative Radha Adhar told Morning Consult there’s about a 50-50 chance the House amendment is actually good news. On one hand, it’s possible Republican leaders are “pandering to the most conservative part of the party,” Adhar said. But on the other hand, the House is adding provisions to match the breadth of the Senate bill, which could be the first of many compromises, she said.

Before the amendment, “the House bill was 300 pages to the Senate bill’s 800 pages,” Adhar said. “Well, now we have an 800-page House bill, too.”

There is also room for compromise on at least one of the controversial provisions added to the legislation. The House package includes Rep. David Valadao’s (R-Calif.) bill on western water resources, which prompted a White House veto threat. An Obama administration statement criticized the legislation for pre-empting state laws on water resources, and for being “inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act” in a way that could threaten local fish populations.

A California Republican congressional staffer told Morning Consult that Republicans are “under no delusions” that they’ll get Democrats to support the bill in its current form. Republicans’ priority is to increase the amount of water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta into the San Joaquin Valley, the staffer said. Outside of that, there’s some flexibility.

The House amendment also includes Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-Texas) on the America COMPETES Act, which, among other things, funds the National Science Foundation. The White House threatened to veto that bill for underfunding clean-energy research.

The White House also criticized several other bills that were included in the House energy package. Rep. Rob Wittman’s (R-Va.) bill on hunting and fishing on public lands undermines several environmental regulations, the White House wrote in a statement of administration policy. Rep. Bruce Westerman’s (R-Ark.) bill on wildfire suppression funds would “undermine collaborative forest restoration,” and Rep. Mark Amodei’s (R-Nev.) bill on mining minerals would eliminate environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, according to additional statements.

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