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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

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
© Greg Nash

HAPPY WEDNESDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

COMMITTING TO A COMMITTEE: Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoBiden returns to Obama-era greenhouse gas calculation Indigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland Senate confirms former Michigan governor Granholm as Energy secretary 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 MurkowskiGraham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Senate ref axes minimum wage, House votes today on relief bill Republicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars 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.

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“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) ManchinProgressives fume over Senate setbacks Politics, not racism or sexism, explain opposition to Biden Cabinet nominees House Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike 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 CarperTexas snowstorm wreaks havoc on state power grid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by TikTok - Dems rest their case; verdict on Trump this weekend No signs of demand for witnesses in Trump trial 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.

"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 LeeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Key vote for Haaland's confirmation | Update on oil and gas leasing | SEC update on climate-related risk disclosure requirements Haaland on drilling lease moratorium: 'It's not going to be a permanent thing' Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March 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 CapitoPassage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Biden's unity effort falters Capito asks White House to allow toxic chemicals rule to proceed MORE (W.Va.) to become the leading Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee. 

Read more about Barrasso’s decision here. 

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 PerdueSonny PerdueThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Georgia election day is finally here; Trump hopes Pence 'comes through for us' to overturn results Civil war between MAGA, GOP establishment could hand Dems total control Trump administration races to finish environmental rules, actions 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.

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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.”

Read more about the new rule here.

CLIME-ING THE LADDER: President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors Biden celebrates vaccine approval but warns 'current improvement could reverse' 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.

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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 HeitkampCentrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives Harrison seen as front-runner to take over DNC at crucial moment Biden to tap Vilsack for Agriculture secretary: reports MORE (D-N.D.) and Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeBlack Caucus members lobby Biden to tap Shalanda Young for OMB head Sanders votes against Biden USDA nominee Vilsack Senate confirms Vilsack as Agriculture secretary 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.

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“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 HarrisDwayne 'The Rock' Johnson vs. Donald Trump: A serious comparison Exclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren To unite America, Biden administration must brace for hate 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 BlumenauerMomentum is growing towards investing in America's crumbling infrastructure Five things Biden should do to tackle the climate emergency Bipartisan bill to provide 0B in coronavirus relief for restaurants reintroduced MORE (D-Ore.) and Los Angeles Mayor Eric GarcettiEric GarcettiLos Angeles stadium vaccine site to close over massive shortages Los Angeles vaccination site temporarily shut down by protesters LA mayor receives first dose of coronavirus vaccine after spending days at super site 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.

Read more about the possible candidates here.

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 DainesIndigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland Kennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help MORE (Mont.), John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenBiden reignites immigration fight in Congress McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Senate GOP opposition grows to objecting to Electoral College results MORE (N.D.), Mike Lee (Utah) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (Miss.) voted against Clements and Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Trump lawyers center defense around attacks on Democrats MORE (D-Hawaii) voted against Christie. 

Read more about the nominees’ advancement here. 

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 WaldenHere are the three GOP lawmakers who voted for the Equality Act Lobbying world Bottom line 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 McCarthyGina McCarthyBiden climate adviser says Texas storm 'a wake-up call' Climate change rears its ugly head, but Biden steps up to fight it The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Finger-pointing on Capitol riot; GOP balks at Biden relief plan MORE and Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellBiden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten key air pollution standards | Despite risks to polar bears, Trump pushes ahead with oil exploration in Arctic | Biden to champion climate action in 2021 OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA proposes reapproving uses of pesticide linked to brain damage in children | Hispanic caucus unhappy with transition team treatment of Lujan Grisham | Schwarzenegger backs Nichols to lead EPA 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