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It’s Time for a House Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Last week, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced that he would resign at the end of October. As a result, many in Congress are calling for new leadership to implement procedural changes to the House. For example, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes suggested that a new leadership team should implement new conference rules that would make the chamber more functional. And in a letter to House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Rep. Peter Roskam issued words of caution about the forthcoming leadership elections:

“If we launch headfirst into leadership elections like this is a typical succession, without ever taking the time to diagnose our current ailments, we won’t heal the fractures in a conference that has thus far proved unleadable. In fact, we will find ourselves right back where we are now — stymied by dysfunction and disunity.”

The House should heed these words of advice and start by revisiting the jurisdiction of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. While this committee is one of the most respected and most influential in Congress, it is no longer functional as it relates to the policy priorities of today. This is in large part due to the breadth of its jurisdiction, which includes energy, telecommunications, technology, healthcare, sports related issues, and more. The committee also oversees the Departments of Energy, Health and Human Services, Commerce, and Transportation, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission.

This laundry list of responsibilities makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the committee to devote sufficient time and resources to one of the most important and growing policy areas—energy. Despite having the word “energy” in its title, the committee has failed to take on our country’s most serious energy challenges.

One need not look further for proof than the committee’s “comprehensive” energy bill, the Architecture of Abundance. The name of this legislation implies that the committee is promoting policies that embrace the use of America’s abundant natural resources—which would lower energy costs, enhance our nation’s energy security, and create jobs. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. While there are some aspects of this bill that embrace the free market and commonsense energy policies, it shrinks from taking on the most meaningful and challenging issues. For example, the bill fails to adequately address the regulatory reform needed to rein in the EPA or find a real solution to the nation’s costly federal ethanol mandate.

This is not necessarily a reflection of Chairman Fred Upton or the other committee members, but rather of the committee’s unwieldy and wide-ranging jurisdiction, which inhibits its ability to focus on these crucial issues. Regardless, it is a wasted opportunity to make significant progress towards more affordable and reliable energy for American families.

Meanwhile, our country faces a relentless and unprecedented level of hostility from the Obama administration towards American energy. Take, for example, oil and gas production, which has lagged on federal lands under this administration’s direction, even as production on non-federal lands has broken records.

Additionally, President Obama is doing his best to live up to his promise to make electricity prices “skyrocket.” His EPA has led a regulatory onslaught on our nation’s energy sources with regulations like the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, carbon dioxide regulations, and the impending ozone regulation. These policies raise the cost of energy and kill jobs in what is already a fragile economy.

Despite these blatant attacks on American energy, the Commerce Committee has missed numerous opportunities to take meaningful action. For example, energy policy in the United States should be guided by its ability to enhance economic growth and create more opportunities for American families. Instead, it is being driven by the Obama administration’s obsession with regulating carbon dioxide, which EPA is using to grab more and more control over Americans’ lives and energy choices.

The committee wrote the laws that the Supreme Court says give EPA flexibility to regulate carbon dioxide, but even John Dingell, the longtime Democratic Chairman, says the committee never intended that carbon dioxide be controlled under the Clean Air Act. Despite this admission, the committee has not attempted to correct the record by fixing the law, even though there is bipartisan consensus that the Clean Air Act is being misinterpreted. Rather than stepping up to the plate and building a record of support for updating these laws, the committee has merely showcased the harm of Obama’s executive abuse. While worthwhile, it is simply not enough. This type of approach is what has led to increased frustration among American voters.

Fortunately, there is a path forward for the next House leadership to remedy this problem. It begins by shifting jurisdiction over energy policy to the House Committee on Natural Resources, creating a House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. This Natural Resources Committee already has jurisdiction over offshore energy production, coal production, water quality, some natural gas production, and shares jurisdiction on almost every other energy issue with Energy and Commerce. Unlike Energy and Commerce, however, the Natural Resources Committee has a clear and defined focus—how to effectively manage and promote the vast resources of the United States. It does not concern itself with telecommunications policy, or consumer safety, or healthcare.

The focus of an Energy and Natural Resources Committee would be on America’s vast natural resources and the energy that powers our economy. With this more centered approach, the House can begin tackling today’s most pressing energy challenges and push back on the Obama administration’s anti-energy agenda. This change will also lighten the load for a Commerce and Health Committee by allowing it to focus on the other important issues it faces.

The change in House leadership presents a unique opportunity for serious reforms that would make the House run more efficiently and effectively. A new Energy and Natural Resources Committee would be an important step in that direction. Such a committee would provide accountability, and perhaps more importantly, clarity for those who seek to understand and truly reform federal energy policy.

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