With the pivotal midterm elections less than five months away, both the White House and Congress are rapidly working to advance policy goals as they confront crises at home and abroad.

With COVID numbers ticking up in many places across the country, the Biden administration and Congressional Democrats are trying to enact additional relief for small businesses – but those efforts appear to be going nowhere fast.

Last week, the Senate failed to advance a $48 billion aid package for restaurants and other small businesses hurt by the pandemic, coming short of ending a filibuster by eight votes. Although the House had passed a similar package earlier in the year, the inability to move a bill in the Senate likely means the end of efforts to assist industries hit by the pandemic.

In a similar vein, Congressional efforts to address rising inflation appear to have limited prospects for enactment. The House last week narrowly passed a price-gouging bill that would allow President Biden to issue an energy emergency declaration prohibiting companies from excessively hiking up gasoline and home fuel prices. However, that bill is likely to meet the same fate as the coronavirus relief package in the Senate, where an expected Republican filibuster will prevent it from moving forward. (Congress did come together in a mostly bipartisan fashion to approve $40 million in new military and humanitarian spending to help Ukraine deal with Russia’s invasion.)

For Democrats, the lack of progress on COVID relief and inflation-fighting measures comes amid last-ditch efforts to pass part of President Biden’s Build Back Better climate and social spending plan, which was stymied in the Senate last fall when two moderate Democrats said they could not support it.

Those two Democrats – Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – are now working with colleagues from both sides of the aisle on a dramatically slimmed down version of the bill that would focus on tax incentives and other measures to promote clean energy. Sen. Sinema in particular is reportedly pushing to include in the plan reform of domestic mining rules for critical minerals from states like Arizona and Nevada. (More on mining reform discussions below.) Whether the group of Senators can put together a package that would receive enough support in the House and Senate is far from clear – and time is increasingly not on lawmakers’ side. While the next election is not until November, the House is scheduled to be in session only 35 more days before then.

Even as Congress struggles to move legislation forward, the White House has taken a number of actions that could impact CRM:

  • Oil and Gas Leases. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing last week that the Biden administration will release a proposed five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leases in federal waters by the June 30 deadline, although she declined to say whether the administration would authorize new drilling or development.

At the same time, the Interior Department canceled a high-profile oil and gas lease sale in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, which would have allowed drilling in over 1 million acres, citing a “lack of industry interest in leasing in the area.” The agency also canceled two other lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico region amid “conflicting court rulings,” as the Biden administration nears a June deadline to complete the sales.

  • Permitting Reform. Last Monday, the White House released a new Permitting Action Plan to “strengthen and accelerate Federal permitting and environmental reviews by fully leveraging existing permitting authorities, as well as new provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”

According to the White House, the Action Plan “outlines the Administration’s strategy for ensuring that Federal environmental reviews and permitting processes are effective, efficient, and transparent, guided by the best available science to promote positive environmental and community outcomes, and shaped by early and meaningful public engagement.”

The Plan has five key elements:  accelerating smart permitting through early cross-agency coordination; establishing clear timeline goals and tracking key project information; engaging in early and meaningful outreach with states, Tribal nations, territories, and local communities; improving agency responsiveness, technical assistance, and support; and using agency resources and environmental reviews to improve impact.

  • EV Supply Equipment Sec. 106 Exemption. As noted previously in ACRASphere, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) is seeking public input on a proposed exemption that would release all federal agencies from the requirement to consider the effects on historic properties of their undertakings involving the installation and placement of certain electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE).

The ACHP is proposing this exemption because they believe that installation of EVSE is likely to result in minimal or no effects to historic properties when certain conditions are met. The ACHP will host consultation meetings with its historic preservation partners in June and is taking public comment until June 6, 2022. ACRA is reviewing the exemption proposal.

  • Mining Reform Interagency Working Group. The Interior Department has asked the public for recommendations to inform its new Interagency Working Group on Mining Regulations, Laws, and Permitting. This action comes at a time when the administration is looking to boost domestic extraction of minerals needed for electric vehicles, cell phones and other technologies, for which the U.S. is currently reliant on adversarial nations like China.

According to Interior, the working group’s role is to “gather information and develop recommendations for improving Federal hardrock mining regulations, laws, and permitting processes, and is inviting public comments to help inform the efforts of the working group.” Interior will hold in in-person public listening sessions, which will be announced in the coming months. The deadline for public comments is July 31, 2022; ACRA is reviewing the request for recommendations.