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THE PERMITTING PLAY: The White House is making moves intended to speed up environmental reviews and permitting for infrastructure projects under pressure from industry and lawmakers in both parties to enable faster approvals.

Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory is before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today answering to the administration’s recent changes to NEPA implementation, a visit that coincides with a new “action plan” the White House released this morning detailing how it plans to help get projects like roads, bridges, and pipelines built more quickly.

The plan says the administration will create permitting schedules and publicize project-specific permitting timetables, as required by the new infrastructure law, as well as provide more technical assistance to project applicants to help walk them through environmental review and permitting processes.

It also said the administration will use the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council, an existing federal agency made up of various officials from EPA, Transportation and the like, to improve coordination where multiple agencies are involved on a given project and “to help avoid and resolve potential conflicts and bottlenecks.”

Picking up where they left off: Biden’s permitting reform campaign is a carry-over from both the Obama administration and the Trump administration, which pursued faster environmental reviews and permitting.

The Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council was created during President Barack Obama’s tenure to make the review process more transparent and predictable, and former President Donald Trump ordered reforms of his own to put specific time constraints on how long agencies can take to perform environmental reviews.

While the Biden administration reversed the Trump-era reforms to NEPA and has contrasted itself with the former administration’s approach, which it says “weakened” the process, several components of the Trump administration’s reform strategy were codified by the new infrastructure law.

For example, Congress established a goal of completing environmental reviews within two years in the new law, as the Trump-era NEPA rule established.

Whether the administration’s NEPA reforms and new action plan will be able to actually make things faster remains to be seen, said Xan Fishman, director of energy policy and carbon management for the Bipartisan Policy Center. But he said what the White House has done so far is important for staking out where it stands on the issue.

“Sometimes the most important step to solving a problem is just admitting that there is a problem,” Fishman told Jeremy.

“This is the Biden administration admitting that there is a problem that needs solving if we want to build decarbonizing infrastructure quickly enough to hit net zero in time,” Fishman said of the plan. “And that’s important. That has been a point of controversy, whether our permitting laws were a problem or worked.”

To that point, Democrats were critical of the Trump administration’s permitting reform strategy, and some environmentalists categorically oppose speeding things up.

“It’s not that slowness is better, or speed is better,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a February interview. “It’s a classic Republican talking point that something is only better if it’s faster.”

Fishman said deadlines like the two-year goal are important guides but “should rarely be ironclad.” He said agencies should have flexibility as to when they complete review considering projects’ complexity can vary.

“If you’re a journalist and you’ve got a deadline and you realize that your article’s a mess, you don't put it out there,” he said.

The White House signaled yesterday in a call with reporters that it’s looking at things the same way. Officials did not speak at length about holding fast to a uniform two-year goal.

“You’re not going to come up with a one-size-fits-all approach for all types of permitting,” Mallory, who was on the call previewing the new permitting plan, told reporters.

Permitting pushback: Many Republican lawmakers support permitting reform but have come out against the White House’s NEPA reforms in particular.

EPW Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito said during today’s hearing that CEQ’s new NEPA rule directing agencies to consider “cumulative” effects of a project, including whether it will contribute to climate change, will “put the thumb on the scale” against approvals for things like natural gas pipelines.

Capito said the new guidance also “amplified the ambiguity and uncertainty we're trying to get around” with the reforms ordered by the infrastructure law.

Welcome to Daily on Energy, written by Washington Examiner Energy and Environment Writers Jeremy Beaman (@jeremywbeaman) and Breanne Deppisch (@breanne_dep). Email or for tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email, and we’ll add you to our list.

PENCE TAKES AIM AT ESG: Former Vice President Mike Pence took aim yesterday at new pressure campaigns for U.S. companies to invest based on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles, arguing that such efforts weaponize the nation’s financial system and elevate “left-wing” goals over the interests of energy producers in the U.S.

Speaking in Houston at an event on energy policy, Pence also called on states, including Texas, to “rein in” the push for companies to invest based on ESG principles.

Finance is “meant to facilitate investment,” Pence said, according to a report of his remarks from Bloomberg. But the Biden administration and federal regulators are “weaponizing the financial system to do the exact opposite,” he added, including through “capricious new ESG regulations that allow left-wing radicals to destroy American energy producers from within.”

Reminder: Some GOP-led states have already been pushing back against investors who put pressure on fossil fuel companies.

DEMOCRATS MOVE TOWARD GAS PRICE BILL: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the House will begin considering a bill next week that would empower federal and state officials to investigate allegations of price-gouging against oil and gas companies. The legislation is the latest salvo from Democrats in Congress as they seek to avoid political liability for high fuel costs ahead of this year’s midterms.

The bill would give additional authority to the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to investigate high fuel costs in the U.S., and would grant them the ability to seek civil penalties for price gouging or price manipulation, at either the real or wholesale level. Lawmakers are also calling for more transparency, including the creation of a dedicated FTC team to investigate fuel prices.

The effort comes as Democrats have sought to place the lion’s share of the blame for high gas costs on oil and gas CEOs. Last month, top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee summoned executives from six of the nation’s largest oil and gas companies, including BP America, Chevron and ExxonMobil, to testify at a hearing titled, “Gouged at the Gas Station: Big Oil and America’s Pain at the Pump.”

The news comes as gas prices in the U.S. reached a record-high for the second straight day in a row Wednesday, climbing to a national average of $4.40 a gallon, according to AAA. Fuel costs have spiked in recent months due to myriad factors, including Russia’s war in Ukraine, increased demand, supply chain constraints, and inflation. They’ve also continued to climb despite multiple efforts from the Biden administration to stabilize them.

SOME RUSSIAN GAS CUT OFF IN UKRAINE: Ukraine suspended the flow of some Russian natural gas supplies to Europe today for the first time since the start of the war, citing “interference” by occupying Russian troops at one of its major transit points. The suspension caused Russian gas flows to Europe to fall by roughly 25%.

The Sokhranivka transit system handles roughly one-third of Russian gas flows to Europe, and mainly sends gas to Austria, Italy, Slovakia, and other Eastern European countries, Reuters reports.

Officials with GTSOU, Ukraine’s gas transmission system operator, said Russian interference had “endangered the stability and safety” of the system, though details were not immediately clear.

GTSOU CEO Sergiy Makogon told reporters that Russian troops had started taking gas and sending it to Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, Reuters reports, though he did not cite additional evidence.

Lavrov defiant: Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia has enough energy buyers to support its economy even without the help of Western countries. Speaking at a news conference in Muscat this morning, Lavrov said, "Let the West pay more than it used to pay to the Russian Federation, and let it explain to its population why they should become poorer.”

EU AND HUNGARY OIL IMPASSE: EU leaders are weighing a plan to offer financial compensation to Hungary in exchange for its support on a Russian oil ban, seeking to win the support of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has single-handedly blocked the EU from advancing its latest sanctions package, citing his country’s deep dependency on Russian oil.

Orbán has emerged as an eleventh-hour foil for the EU as leaders seek to pass the oil embargo, since any sanctions package requires approval of all 27 member states. Last week, Orbán said an oil ban would be akin to dropping a “nuclear bomb” on Budapest’s economy, which relies on Russia for roughly 65% of its oil. In that interview, Orban said Hungary would need five years to transition away from Russian crude—all but laughing away the original 12-month extension the EU gave to Hungary and Slovakia in their first draft proposal. “1, 1.5 years is not enough for anything," Orban said.

The plan: European Commission officials are hoping to use payment mechanisms included in its forthcoming REPowerEU strategy, Politico reports, which is slated to be announced next week. The REPowerEU effort will outline the bloc’s broader strategy to phase out all Russian energy supplies before 2030. It is also expected to make funds available for member countries, such as Hungary, that will be harder hit by the oil ban.

"The more we can help Hungary with REPowerEU, the faster they can move away from Russian oil,” one senior EU official told Politico.

Orbán met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday to discuss investments in upgrading Hungary’s oil infrastructure, according to a spokesman for von der Leyen. He also spoke yesterday to French President Emmanuel Macron.

No word on Orban backing off: Earlier today, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto maintained that an agreement on the sanctions package still appeared unlikely: "Brussels has no proposal for a solution ... which could handle the atomic bomb like impacts of this potential oil embargo against Russia on Hungary's economy," Szijjarto said in a video posted to his Facebook page.

The Rundown

Politico EU Still a big noise: Orbán flexes power over EU oil ban

Bloomberg Now it’s gasoline’s turn to be gripped by supply fears

Reuters Home to Rosneft refinery, east German city dreads cost of Russian oil ban



10:00 a.m. House Natural Resources’s Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee will host a hearing titled, “Reforming the Mining Law of 1872.”