OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight
COMMITTING TO A COMMITTEE: Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoMcConnell reelected as Senate GOP leader Biden climate agenda would slam into Senate GOP roadblocks Trump signs bipartisan bill funding conservation grants MORE (Wyo.) announced Wednesday that he plans to become the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a move that would vacate his leadership role on the Environment and Public Works panel.
Barrasso would be filling the seat vacated by Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOn The Money: Trump’s controversial Fed nominee stalled | Economists warn of lag time between vaccine and recovery | Business group calls for national mask mandate, COVID-19 relief Trump’s controversial Fed nominee stalled after Senate setback Shelton’s Fed nomination on knife’s edge amid coronavirus-fueled absences MORE (R-Alaska), who’s leaving under Republican conference rules that limit the number of terms a senator can be the chair or ranking member of a committee.
“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 added.
On the committee, Barrasso may take a more conservative approach than the relatively moderate Murkowski, who often worked on bipartisan priorities with the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats look to sharpen message after Senate setback The Memo: Divided Democrats search for common ground Biden could lose Georgia Senate races all by himself MORE (W.Va.).
Barrasso opposed a major piece of conservation legislation, the Great American Outdoors Act, that was signed into law this year.
He was also a leading voice in opposing the addition to a major energy bill a bipartisan amendment that would phase down the use of a type of greenhouse gas known as hydrofluorocarbons. Barrasso was recently able to reach a compromise on that issue with Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperSenate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls Senate roadblocks threaten to box in Biden Trump signs bipartisan bill funding conservation grants MORE (D-Del.) and John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), though their disagreement stalled the bill’s progress.
He’s also been generally supportive of the fossil fuel industry and has opposed biofuel blending requirements for oil refineries. He’s also been supportive of nuclear energy, introducing a bipartisan nuclear infrastructure bill this week.
Manchin, in a statement, expressed optimism about his future work with Barrasso.
“Senator Barrasso and I both come from states that are blessed with a wide array of natural resources, and I know that will serve as a basis for us to work together in the 117th Congress,” the moderate Democrat said.
Barrasso’s aim to lead the energy panel would quash Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeColorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter tests positive for coronavirus Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg and Dorsey return for another hearing | House passes 5G funding bill | Twitter introduces ‘fleets’ Lawmakers question tech CEOs about content moderation in first post-election hearing MORE‘s (R-Utah) chances of taking the leading role on Energy and Natural Resources.
E&E News reported Wednesday that if Barrasso decided to stay at Environment and Public Works, Lee may have taken over Energy and Natural Resources, but a spokesperson for the Utah senator told The Hill in an email that Lee would not challenge Barrasso for the role.
But the move may open a door for Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoTrump wins West Virginia Capito wins reelection in West Virginia Senate race Live updates: Democrats fight to take control of the Senate MORE (W.Va.) to become the leading Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
AT YOUR (FOREST) SERVICE: The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) on Wednesday finalized its decision to weaken environmental analysis of many of its plans, excluding a number of actions from scientific review or community input.
The new rule allows the service to use a number of exemptions to sidestep requirements of the bedrock National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), something critics say will speed approval of logging, roads, and pipelines on Forest Service land.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueFederal judge strikes down Trump’s cuts on food stamps for unemployed EU’s ‘farm to fork’ demands could mean indigestion for US food exporters Baldwin calls for Senate hearing on CDC response to meatpacking plant coronavirus outbreak MORE said the changes “will ensure we do the appropriate level of environmental analysis to fit the work, locations and conditions,” arguing the streamlining could better help the Forest Service aid areas hurt by wildfires, and quickly repair roads, trails, and campgrounds.
But environmentalists say the service is sidestepping analysis it needs to make informed decisions about how to respond to fire damage or ensure runoff from roads wont hurt its forests.
“Those are really laudable goals, but the problem is it matters where you do things. Forest Service has no idea what areas need treatment or what kind of treatment they need until you do a scientific analysis,” said Sam Evans, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental law Center (SELC). “So cutting the scientific analysis and the public input of that decision is really wrong headed.”
Evans sees the rule as part of a broader campaign by the Trump administration to weaken environmental rules in general and NEPA in particular.
The Forest Service rule has been scaled back since it was first proposed last year, cutting the scale of projects that are eligible for the so-called categorical exclusions that allow them to proceed with little review.
But Evans sees that as an issue, incentivizing, for example, a pipeline company looking for an easement, to look for the narrowest portion of Forest Service land to cross, rather than finding the most environmentally-friendly way to do so.
Several groups, in addition to SELC, have pledged to sue.
“The Trump administration is streamlining destruction of our public lands when what we need to be doing is protecting them,” Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a release. “We’ll do everything we can to ensure that the public has a voice on public lands, including taking the federal government to court.”
CLIME-ING THE LADDER: President-elect Joe BidenJoe Biden46 percent of voters say Trump should concede immediately: poll Michigan county reverses course, votes unanimously to certify election results GOP senator: Trump shouldn’t fire top cybersecurity official MORE is eyeing the departments of Agriculture and Transportation as key partners for achieving his climate goals, exciting progressives by broadening efforts beyond traditional environmental agencies.
Biden’s climate plan calls for harnessing the power of agriculture to capture and store carbon while innovating to reduce its own footprint. In the transportation sector, he’s called for a massive investment in transit and electric vehicle infrastructure to reduce reliance on gas-powered vehicles.
But some of Biden’s potential picks are already generating concern from left-leaning interest groups, particularly those that want the incoming administration to surpass former President Obama’s accomplishments by using the full force of the federal government to tackle climate change.
Among those considered to lead the Department of Agriculture (USDA) are former Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampFive actions Biden should take to build a more humane food system Progressive group slams Biden White House pick over tie to fossil fuel industry Why it’s time for a majority female Cabinet MORE (D-N.D.) and Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeFive actions Biden should take to build a more humane food system Race for House ag chair heats up OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Republicans in campaign mode for top spots on House environmental committees | Peterson loss prompts scramble for House Agriculture chair MORE (D-Ohio.).
Fudge has been openly campaigning for the job, telling Politico earlier this month that she’s been “very, very loyal to the ticket” and encouraging the Biden administration to place Black leaders in roles beyond traditional posts like Housing and Urban Development secretary.
Heitkamp has been more circumspect but didn’t rule out interest. After losing reelection in 2018 after only one term, she formed the One Country Fund, a political action committee that seeks to bolster Democratic prospects in rural America, an area where Democrats have struggled to make inroads.
“Joe Biden has the opportunity to put together a Cabinet that reflects all parts of America, and I know what decision he makes is going to be the right one,” Heitkamp told The Hill.
“We all have to make America unified to work again, so I’m very, very excited about Joe Biden as our next president of the United States and for Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisOn The Money: Trump’s controversial Fed nominee stalled | Economists warn of lag time between vaccine and recovery | Business group calls for national mask mandate, COVID-19 relief Biden, Harris briefed by national security experts amid transition obstacles Graham becomes center of Georgia storm MORE as our next vice president.”
But her potential nomination for Agriculture secretary is already facing resistance from a host of left-leaning environmental and farmworker groups, hitting the former senator for her moderate voting record, acceptance of campaign contributions from large agribusiness and her overall environmental record.
At the Transportation Department, Biden’s list of potential nominees is likely to include Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerRestaurants brace for long COVID-19 winter Ahead of a coronavirus vaccine, Mexico’s drug pricing to have far-reaching impacts on Americans Trump threatens to double down on Portland in other major cities MORE (D-Ore.) and Los Angeles Mayor Eric GarcettiEric GarcettiFavorites emerge as Latino leaders press Biden to appoint 5 Hispanics to Cabinet Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight California becomes second state to reach 1M COVID-19 cases MORE (D).
Unions have already been vocal about their opposition to any pick that may seek to reduce the workforce as a way to cut costs for transportation systems — something they worry could be portrayed as a necessity in switching to greener technology.
“The human element of this question is always the most important thing to us and advancement of environmental goals can be done in way that doesn’t tremendously negatively impact workers,” said John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union, adding that green goals could be used as cover by some transit authorities or companies to “advance profit making.”
Garcetti, who has backed free transit in Los Angeles, did not respond to a request for comment, while Blumenauer didn’t rule out interest in the Cabinet post.
“My goal is to help move transportation priorities through Congress and to be helpful to this new administration in any way I can. That’s what I’m focusing on right now,” he said in a statement.
UNCERTAINTY, CONFIRMED: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted on Wednesday to advance the nominations of Allison Clements and Mark Christie to be commissioners at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
However, it’s not clear whether the two nominees, whose confirmation would restore the commission to a full five members, will get a floor vote as the Senate session comes to a close.
Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowksi (R-Alaska) acknowledged the time frame in her opening remarks on Wednesday.
“It’s perhaps too early to say what the floor schedule will allow in December,” she said. “But if these nominees are confirmed, FERC would at least have a full complement of five Commissioners headed into 2021, which is a far better place than the start of 2017.”
Neither nominee passed the committee unanimously.
Republican Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump races clock on remaining environmental rollbacks | New Interior order undermines conservation bill Trump campaigned on, critics say | Trump administration to further advance lease sales at Arctic refuge: report New Interior order undermines conservation bill Trump campaigned on, critics say Trump administration submits list of conservation projects after the deadline MORE (Mont.), John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Bottom line Bipartisan senators seek funding for pork producers forced to euthanize livestock MORE (N.D.), Mike Lee (Utah) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (Miss.) voted against Clements and Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Overnight Defense: Dems want hearing on DOD role on coronavirus vaccine | US and India sign data-sharing pact | American citizen kidnapped in Niger Senate Democrats want hearing on Pentagon vaccine effort MORE (D-Hawaii) voted against Christie.
RIGHT-O: Conservative group C3 Solutions has launched a project tracking the Republican response to climate change.
The Right Voices page is a database of quotes from Republican politicos, including a number of incoming freshmen, billed as “a useful tool for people on all sides who want to understand the essential conservative perspective on climate.”
The project will be manned by Zack Roday, the former communications staffer to outgoing House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg and Dorsey return for another hearing | House passes 5G funding bill | Twitter introduces ‘fleets’ House approves legislation providing 0 million to boost US 5G efforts Republicans in campaign mode for top spots on House environmental committees MORE (R-Ore.).
MAILBAG: Former environmental and education officials are urging Joe Biden to incorporate climate change into his plans for the education department.
A letter signed by Obama Administration Education Secretaries John King and Arnie Duncan, as well as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump replaces head of energy regulatory commission | Biden climate agenda would slam into Senate GOP roadblocks | Emails show Park Police reliance on pepper balls, outside police forces during Lafayette protests Biden climate agenda would slam into Senate GOP roadblocks Former EPA chiefs endorse Biden, criticize agency direction under Trump MORE and Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellNational parks pay the price for Trump’s Independence Day spectacle Overnight Energy: Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone | UN report offers dire climate warning | Trump expected to lift ethanol restrictions Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone MORE urged Biden to “include the Department of Education in any cross-agency climate agenda.”
“Our education sector can work to mitigate its environmental impact and work to build resilience in preparation for climate change,” said the letter, which was also signed by George W. Bush-era EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
Majority of Minnesota pollution advisory group resigns in protest of agency’s Line 3 decision, Minnesota Public Radio reports
Study finds half of the world’s aviation emissions is caused by just 1% of the population, CNN reports
Utah lawmakers push to block cities from banning natural gas, The Salt Lake Tribune reports
ICYMI: Stories from Wednesday…
Flint to pay $20M of $640M settlement over lead-tainted water
Senate advances energy regulator nominees despite uncertainty of floor vote
Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects
Red Cross says global warming poses greater threat than COVID-19
Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight
Read More: OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight