Sen. John Barrasso announced his intent to become lead Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for the 117th Congress next year, setting himself up for a potential leadership role if Republicans maintain control of the U.S. Senate this winter.
Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, currently chairs the committee.
If Barrasso — a rank-and-file member of that committee — ultimately rises to a leadership position on the committee, it will give Wyoming an outsized voice in national policy decisions governing some of the state’s most critical natural resources amid a sustained downturn for resources like natural gas and coal — a fact he addressed in a statement announcing the decision.
“My state is home to some of the greatest natural resource wonders in the world,” Barrasso said. “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. The enjoyment, protection, and utilization of these special places and resources are at the very heart of our economy and western tradition.”
A spokesman for Barrasso declined to elaborate on a potential agenda should the senator ascend to the chairmanship, saying that specific priorities for his time as chair would likely come into clearer focus over the coming two months.
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As chairman of the Committee on the Environment and Public Works, Barrasso made energy a priority of the group’s work in the 116th Congress, sponsoring legislation to spur the development of nuclear energy infrastructure around the country and to incentivize the development of carbon capture technologies: a key element in Gov. Mark Gordon’s strategy to help save Wyoming’s coal industry.
Barrasso’s announcement was quickly praised by committee’s lead Democrat, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, whose home state is equally reliant on coal and other natural resources.
“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,” Manchin said.
Who will ultimately take the lead, however, depends on the state of Georgia after an underwhelming performance by Democratic Senate candidates in this year’s election. Currently, Republicans need just one win in Georgia’s two Senate runoff elections this January to avoid a 50-50 split with the Democrats.
With President-elect Joe Biden winning the state by a slim margin over President Donald Trump in this year’s elections, the outcome of the runoff is nowhere near certain: most pollsters rate both elections as toss-ups.
The results, however, could be critical to Barrasso’s ability to legislate in the committee: With a Democrat in the White House and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote in a 50-50 Senate, Democrats would have the advantage in such a scenario.