Former Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska said that Boehner often embraced the opportunity to legislate on energy, since it was one issue where he was really able to see eye-to-eye with his conservative foes.
“Wherever you are on the spectrum of the Republican side, whether you’re a moderate or a libertarian, everyone can agree that we needed to use our energy resources wisely, but use them to help our economy,” Terry told National Journal. “This was an issue that really brought everyone together. Those seem to be fewer and farther between lately."
Among the bills that Boehner advanced were massive energy packages to expand offshore drilling, open up shale-gas finds, and expedite pipelines and other energy infrastructure. Since 2011, the House voted at least 11 times on bills related to the Keystone XL oil-sands pipeline. There were several bills designed to weaken individual environmental rules, including a bill passed in June that would let states opt out of regulations on the power sector.
But there were also wonkier items that went after the very process by which the White House was moving its environmental regulations. That included bills like the Reins Act—which passed this summer and would require congressional approval for executive-branch rules—and bills that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to publicly release its environmental data. On Friday, the House passed a bill to streamline environmental analyses, which included a provision barring consideration of the “social cost of carbon.”
Even in his last months in Congress, Boehner came out against the decades-old ban on crude-oil exports. After Boehner announced his decision on the issue in July, a bill from Rep. Joe Barton of Texas lifting the ban got kicked into gear and is now set to come to the floor in October.
Former Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, one of the coauthors of the energy bill that Boehner railed against, who left Congress last year, said in an interview that Boehner was in a “no win” circumstance with the Right and tried to do the best he could.
But ultimately, Waxman, who served 20 terms, summed up the agenda this way: “[Boehner] gave the right wing carte blanche on the environment and on health care. He brought bills to the House floor to strip EPA of its legal authority on climate change, on clean air, on ozone, on anything that they wanted.”
Those priorities ended up being rebuffed by the Democratic Senate, or in the case of the Keystone pipeline, by President Obama’s veto pen.
But Karen Harbert, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for 21st Century Energy, said the bills were still important to show opposition to the White House’s agenda—even the smaller, regulatory bills.
“He was willing to advance things that were really good for America, but might not capture the headlines,” she said of Boehner. “Regulatory transparency won’t keep anyone up at night, but he understood it was badly needed.”