Six months into his presidency, Donald Trump has yet to sign into law any of the major pieces of legislation he promised to quickly pass if he won. The effort to unwind the Affordable Care Act may have been dealt its final death blow this past week. A comprehensive tax rewrite and infrastructure spending bills have yet to get off the ground.
And the most consequential law passed under Trump, the Russia sanctions bill, is one that the White House initially opposed. Trump was not a fan of the bill but apparently felt he had no other choice but to sign if after a rare rebuke from Congress in tying the president’s hands on foreign policy, something lawmakers usually yield to the president.
So into that vacancy comes a bipartisan energy bill drafted by Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., that will be, through no arm-twisting or string-pulling by the president himself, the biggest piece of legislation yet to land on his desk should it pass Congress.
What does the bill do? The bill, called the Energy and Natural Resources Act (ENRA), contains a number of provisions addressing a wide array of energy and environmental policy, including updating the U.S. volcano monitoring system; promoting access to electricity for Native Americans; and easing permissions on federal lands for hunters. Like many pieces of comprehensive legislation, the energy bill cobbles together dozens of standalone proposals that lacked the momentum to make their way through Congress on their own. Regarding the National Park System alone, for example, the ENRA repackages 38 existing bills.
To the delight of some environmentalists and renewable-energy advocates, the bill permanently authorizes a fund that grants money collected from offshore oil and gas projects to state and local governments to buy land for parks and other outdoor recreation areas. It also reauthorizes, with some tweaks, the Energy Department’s loan program to companies developing new energy technologies. The Trump administration has proposed eliminating that loan program.
But the portion that will likely get the most attention – from both environmentalists and, perhaps, from the White House – concerns streamlining the process by which the federal government approves pipelines and export terminals for natural gas. Currently, companies building that infrastructure have to go through rounds of approvals from DOE and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that industry regards as overly tedious. The new bill would expedite the process.
Trump has made increasing the export of natural gas a cornerstone of his “energy dominance” agenda, and will likely embrace that change. This month, a group of 42 national left-leaning organizations, including Friends of the Earth, the Center for Biological Diversity and 350.org, wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., saying “the build-out of fossil fuel infrastructure takes us in exactly the wrong direction.” The groups are calling for the defeat of the legislation.
Can energy legislation pass? Murkowski and Cantwell have come close to getting over the finish line the earlier draft of the bill. A version passed the Senate in a 85-to-12 vote last year before dying in conference after conservatives in the House demanded changes to the legislation.
But McConnell appears to want this win. After the bill was introduced in late June, McConnell allowed for the legislation to skip committee so it could be considered by the full chamber sooner.
Or at least McConnell was enthusiastic before the latest vote on the bare-bones Affordable Care Act rollback, which Murkowski voted against despite great pressure from the Trump administration.