New Senate Chairman Vows ‘Fundamental Shift’ on Environment

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By Dean Scott

The Wyoming Republican who is taking the gavel of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is looking to make “a fundamental shift” away from the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulations that he argues have hurt U.S. industry and job growth.

“We have the opportunity to continue to be good stewards of the environment in a way that doesn’t hurt jobs,” avoiding “what happened the last eight years” under the Obama administration, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 5.

“It’s going to be a fundamental shift and we’ll take a look at the real costs and the real benefits of different regulations that affect the economy, as well as the environment,” he said.

Barrasso’s rise to the chairmanship—he succeeds Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has been either the committee’s chairman or ranking member since 2003—was assured when Republicans held on to their Senate majority Nov. 8.

Barrasso was formally elected chairman Jan. 4; Delaware’s Sen. Tom Carper will serve as the panel’s top Democrat.

Agenda to Be Outlined at Hearing

Barrasso and the departing Inhofe are on the same page on key environmental issues—both are among the Senate’s most vocal opponents of Obama’s climate and other environmental regulations and question the link between human activity and climate change.

But Barrasso has been perhaps the lead voice in the chamber trying to derail international climate aid that Obama pledged to help developing nations adapt to climate impacts and pursue a low-carbon development path, and has more of an international focus generally stemming from his chairmanship of a Senate foreign relations subcommittee.

Barrasso declined to elaborate on how he may target that funding, but it is clearly in the crosshairs given Republicans are largely opposed and control both chambers of Congress, and will control the White House after Jan. 20. Particularly vulnerable: President Barack Obama’s $3 billion pledge over four years to the Green Climate Fund.

The new chairman said he will give a detailed opening statement “to really go through specifics” of his agenda when the Environment and Public Works Committee holds its confirmation hearing for Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Barrasso’s committee had yet to schedule Pruitt’s confirmation hearing as of late Jan. 5.

Environmental groups are strongly opposed to Pruitt, largely due to litigation he has used to derail Obama’s EPA rules. One group, Clean Air Moms Action, began a television and online ad campaign this week criticizing Pruitt’s efforts against EPA mercury standards.

Clean Air Act Changes Unlikely?

Inhofe, who will stay on the committee as a member, told Bloomberg BNA Republican committee members have yet to meet “to talk about all these detailed agenda items” but said he rejects the notion that he and Barrasso are opposed to science. The distinction, Inhofe said Jan. 5, is that Republicans will argue that any environmental regulations be steeped in “sound science.”

“The only thing we’re going to say is, it has to be based on sound science -that’s it,” Inhofe said. Low on the committee’s priority list, Inhofe said, are changes to the Clean Air Act, a hot-button item that has eluded House Republicans who grumble that the EPA has had far too much latitude in using its authority and that the law should be changed to rein in the agency.

“No, it’s just not high enough on the agenda to discuss right now,” Inhofe said of possible changes to the law.

Perhaps, he was asked, next year?

“Sounds good,” Inhofe said.

Will Work With Trump

In a statement, Barrasso offered only a broad outline of his agenda, vowing as chairman to focus “on measures that will remove red-tape and bureaucratic barriers to economic development, while ensuring clean air, land, and water for every American.”

“Over the past eight years, a runaway Environmental Protection Agency has time and again issued cumbersome regulations that have limited job creation and energy development,” he said. The environment committee will work closely with the Trump administration “to remove these obstacles to economic growth, while protecting the environment,” it said.

Republicans now outnumber Democratic votes 11-10 on the environment committee; Republican members in addition to Barrasso are Inhofe and Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.); John Boozman (Ark.); Roger Wicker (Miss.); Deb Fischer (Neb.); Jeff Sessions (Ala.); Jerry Moran (Kan.); Mike Rounds (S.D.); Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Dan Sullivan (Alaska).

Democrats, in addition to Delaware’s Carper, are Sens. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.); Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.); Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.); Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.); Cory Booker (D-N.J.); Ed Markey (D-Mass.); Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.); and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, also onthe committee, caucuses and votes with the Democrats.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington, D.C., at DScott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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