Barrasso stakes claim to chair Energy and Natural Resources

The Wyoming senator has been a vocal critic of Democrats' carbon reduction proposals

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso talked to reporters in May, flanked by other members of Senate GOP leadership, including, from left, Roy Blunt, John Thune, Mitch McConnell, Joni Ernst and Todd Young.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso talked to reporters in May, flanked by other members of Senate GOP leadership, including, from left, Roy Blunt, John Thune, Mitch McConnell, Joni Ernst and Todd Young. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted November 18, 2020 at 2:52pm

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said Wednesday he intends to assume the top spot on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the next Congress, a shift with cascading repercussions on energy, environment and transportation issues.

The Wyoming Republican is the No. 2 member of his party on the committee now, behind Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, who is stepping down and expected to lead the Indian Affairs committee. Committee chairmanships are determined by party leaders, which includes Barrasso, who is also GOP Conference Chairman.

[For Barrasso, a tough and impactful choice for next Congress]

“My state is home to some of the greatest natural resource wonders in the world. Our abundant energy supplies help power the nation. Our national parks and other special public lands are prized by locals and visited by millions from around the globe,” Barrasso said in a statement. 

“The enjoyment, protection, and utilization of these special places and resources are at the very heart of our economy and western tradition,” he said. 

While Democrats could gain the majority if they win two Senate races in Georgia in January, Barrasso will remain a key player on public lands, energy research, carbon capture and mining no matter if he is the committee chairman or its ranking member, a role currently held by Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.V., another coal-state lawmaker.

A sharp critic of climate policies under the Obama administration, Barrasso, whose home state has large deposits of coal, could be a thorn in the side of the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who campaigned on aggressive efforts to rein in human-driven climate change.

The Energy Department and the Interior Department will be critical for the Biden administration to pursue its climate agenda, and nominees for the agency, including the secretaries of both and the heads of key agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service, would have to go through a Barrasso-led energy committee if Republicans control the Senate.

Next in line at the Environment and Public Works Committee, which Barrasso will depart, for the Republicans is Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R- W.Va., who shares many of Barrasso’s priorities but has shown more of an interest than he has in water pollution issues and contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which are toxic chemicals found in common household goods.

At EPW, Barrasso was leading the development of the Senate's version of the surface transportation reauthorization bill. 

The five-year, $287 billion highway bill passed through the committee in July 2019, but the Senate could not resolve differences with the $494 billion House bill and Congress ultimately passed a one-year extension of the 2015 highway law (PL 114-94). 

The logistics of a reshuffle would mean committee Republicans would have to redo the highway bill largely from scratch and hire new staff for their side of the committee. 

“Wyoming has been represented on the Senate Energy Committee continuously since 1899,” Barrasso said. “It will be an honor to continue this tradition of Wyoming leadership.”