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Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee
© Bonnie Cash

Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoSunday shows preview: Democrats eye passage of infrastructure bill; health experts warn of fourth coronavirus wave Lack of cyber funds in Biden infrastructure plan raises eyebrows As Congress considers infrastructure, don't forget rural America 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 MurkowskiTrump looms large over GOP donor retreat in Florida Top GOP super PAC endorses Murkowski amid primary threat Biden-GOP infrastructure talks off to rocky start 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.

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“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 ManchinJoe ManchinBiden to meet Monday with bipartisan lawmakers about infrastructure Biden is thinking about building that wall — and that's a good thing Buttigieg on exaggerated infrastructure jobs estimate: 'I should have been more precise' 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 CarperFive reasons why US faces chronic crisis at border Appeals court agrees to pause lawsuit over Trump-era emissions rule Five things to watch on Biden infrastructure plan 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. 

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Manchin, in a statement, expressed optimism about his future work with Barrasso.

"I was pleased to learn Senator Barrasso will join me to lead the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has a long history of strong bipartisan leadership and has served as an example for how the Senate can work when partisanship is not at the forefront," the moderate Democrat said.

"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,” he added.

Barrasso's aim to lead the energy panel would quash Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOn management of Utah public lands, Biden should pursue an accountable legislative process Rubio asks MLB commissioner if he'll give up Augusta golf club membership Why some Republicans think vaccine passports will backfire on Democrats 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.  

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But the move may open a door for Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoBiden-GOP infrastructure talks off to rocky start Moderate GOP senators and Biden clash at start of infrastructure debate America's infrastructure: You get what you pay for MORE (W.Va.) to become the leading Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee. 

Ahead of her on that panel's seniority is Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeBiden defense budget criticized by Republicans, progressives alike Sanders expresses 'serious concerns' with Biden's defense increase Senate GOP slams Biden defense budget MORE (R-Okla.), but he already leads the Armed Services Committee and is unlikely to leave that position. 

Asked earlier this month whether Capito was interested in leading the environment panel, spokesperson Kelley Moore declined to comment directly but highlighted some priorities of Capito as a member of the committee. 

Those priorities included a highway bill, water infrastructure investments, addressing climate change through support of carbon capture technology and making sure that the Environmental Protection Agency meets various deadlines like one to update air quality standards. 

The spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a follow-up after Barrasso's announcement. 

It still isn't clear whether Barrasso's intended move would put him as the chair or ranking member of the committee since the Senate majority will be decided by two Georgia Senate runoffs in January.

Updated at 5:15 p.m.