Barrasso, Murkowski tell Politico Morning Energy of some GOP plans for energy, environmental policies

A Congressional attack on President Barack Obama’s recent use of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to block oil exploration in the Arctic and on the Atlantic seaboard is coming. So are Congressional Review Act efforts to nullify sundry other Obama administration environmental protection rules.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told Politico Morning Energy Friday that “her team” is examining methods to overturn Obama’s Dec. 20 OCSLA decision.

“We think we can make the argument that it does fall within review, but again that’s what the smart legal teams are doing,” she told the online publication.

Senator John Barrasso, R-Wyo., also spoke to Politico Morning Energy. He was quoted as saying that the GOP Congress would take an “opposite approach” when it comes to environmental policy and that the CRA would be deployed to go after at least a few regulations.

Barrasso is the new chair of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.

Murkowski told the magazine that her staff at the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which she chairs, have built a “laundry list” of possible regulations for which CRA nullification would be attempted.

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115th Congress opens Tuesday; assaults on Obama environment regulations, focus on REINS Act expected

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate will be sworn in today as the Republican-dominated new Congress begins its work, which is expected to include efforts to derail a number of Obama administration environmental regulations and alter the nation’s bedrock environmental laws.

The GOP will hold a 241-194 majority in the House of Representatives, down seven seats from the last Congress. Republicans will dominate each of the key committees that deal with environmental policy matters. Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said last June that he hopes to rescind many Obama administration regulations by statute, including the Clean Power Plan and “all climate change regulations under the Clean Air Act.”

Ryan has also explicitly called for nullification of the Waters of the United States rule, which extends Clean Water Act jurisdiction to water bodies that are hydrologically connected to rivers and lakes.

Last month, the speaker said that he would fight to rescind Obama’s removal of Atlantic and Arctic ocean waters from oil exploration and drilling.

On the Appropriations Committee, where so-called riders to bills that allow the federal government to spend money have often sought to undermine or nullify protective regulations, New Jersey’s Rodney Frelinghuysen will become chair. President-elect Donald J. Trump’s promises to lower funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, federal renewable energy programs at the Department of Energy, and climate science research at NASA would be considered by this committee, as well as the Budget Committee.

Rep. Gregory P. Walden, R-Ore., will chair the Energy and Commerce Committee, while public lands opponent Rob Bishop of Utah will continue to helm the Natural Resources Committee.

Walden, who was first elected in 1998 and is the only Republican in Oregon’s Congressional delegation, has said little about his specific plans for the Energy and Commerce Committee. A statement released after his selection as chair on Dec. 1 said that he would push the “Better Way Agenda” proposed by Ryan last year.

Walden’s website says that he supports the REINS Act, legislation that would subject many federal regulations to a requirement of Congressional approval, and that he opposes designation of new wilderness areas in Oregon. Walden’s website also highlights his advocacy of legislative changes intended to increase timber production in national forests.

A July video statement by Walden celebrated passage of legislation that precluded listing of the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act and designation of a national monument in rural Oregon.

The Natural Resources Committee is expected to consider bills that would reduce or eliminate the President’s authority to declare national monuments on federal land.

Bishop reportedly met with Trump’s transition team last month to discuss ways to roll back President Barack Obama’s declaration of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, as well as other decisions Obama has made under the Antiquities Act of 1906. The question whether a President lacks the authority to revoke a predecessor’s designation of a national monument has not been tested in court, though a U.S. attorney general’s opinion from the 1930s indicates that he does not have that power. Congress would likely have to pass legislation if it desires to alter or rescind any of Mr. Obama’s national monument designations.

Texas Republican Lamar S. Smith will continue to lead the Science, Space and Technology Committee, which has proven to be an active agent of the GOP’s anti-climate science agenda in recent years.

Among the first priorities to be considered by the House is the proposed REINS Act. That bill has been passed by the Republican-dominated House at least three times, most recently late in 2016, but has been blocked in the Senate each time. It is not clear whether its prospects in the Senate are any better this time than in the past, given that there will be fewer Republicans in the Senate during the 115th Congress than in the just-concluded 114th Congress.

Both chambers are likely to consider Congressional Review Act resolutions to overturn Obama administration environmental regulations.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., who remains in office until Jan. 20, will preside over the ceremony welcoming new senators at 12 pm EST. The Republicans will have a 52-48 margin in that chamber.

The Environment and Public Works Committee of the Senate gets a new chair, Wyoming’s John Barrasso, and new ranking member, Delaware’s Thomas Carper.

Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski will again chair the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, with Maria Cantwell of Washington serving as ranking member.

Maria Cantwell, Tom Carper to lead Democrats on key Senate environment committees in 115th Congress

U.S. Senate Democrats, meeting this week to name a new minority leader to take over following the impending retirement of Sen. Harry M. Reid of Nevada, have chosen two veteran legislators to be the party’s leaders on the chamber’s two key environmental policy committees.

Sen. Maria E. Cantwell of Washington will be the ranking member on the Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, while Sen. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware will be his party’s senior member of the Committee on Environment & Public Works.

Cantwell, 58, is a veteran politician, having first been elected to public office in 1986. She served in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1993-1995 before returning to Congress as a U.S. senator after defeating her Republican predecessor Slade Gorton in 2000.

The former technology company executive has prioritized a comprehensive energy bill and worked with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to move that measure through the Senate during the 114th Congress. That bill, S. 2012, is now in a conference committee following passage of similar legislation by the House of Representatives.

Titled the Energy Policy Modernization Act, S. 2012 would mandate some improvement in the energy efficiency of buildings, encourage renewable energy production by requiring owners of transmission lines and transformers to assure that the electricity grid can accommodate power generated by solar panels and wind turbines, and reduce legal and bureaucratic obstacles to the export of natural gas.

S. 2012 would also permanently renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The conference committee consideration of S. 2012 has not yet been scheduled. With only a few weeks remaining in the 114th Congress, it is not clear whether the measure can be sent to President Barack Obama’s desk before adjournment.

“We are currently focused on whether we can reach agreement on the energy bill in this Congress,” a spokesperson for Cantwell who preferred not to be named said in a statement.

Earlier in her career Cantwell successfully convinced Congress to increase the size of Mt. Rainier National Park, establish the Wild Sky Wilderness in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and forbid oil exploration off Washington’s Pacific coast.

Murkowski will continue to chair the energy and natural resources committee, though Republicans will have either a three- or four seat Senate majority in the upcoming Congress, depending on the outcome of a pending election in Louisiana, instead of the 54 seats in the 100-member chamber they now hold.

Carper, 69, was also first elected to the Senate in 2000. He is a former governor of the First State and also served in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1983-1993.

During the 114th Congress Carper voted for a bill that would override Obama’s decision to deny a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and authorize construction of mammoth fossil fuel project. He also supported a 2013 bill that aimed to prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from requiring a Clean Water Act permit for the discharge of registered pesticides into lakes, rivers, and streams.

On the other hand,  Carper has often been a defender of strong environmental protections. For example, in January he voted against a resolution that would have killed EPA’s Waters of the United States rule and also voted “no” on two 2015 Senate resolutions that would have nullified the Obama administration’s electric power plant regulations.

Sen. John A. Barrasso III, R-Wyo., will be the chairman of the environment and public works committee during the 115th Congress.

Barrasso, who first came to the Senate in 2007, has established a reputation as being a firm denier of climate science. In that respect he represents little change from the committee’s current chairman, Oklahoma’s James M. Inhofe.

As of the time this article is published there has been no announcement of the other members of either committee.

UPDATE, Nov. 18, 2016, 11:44 am: A statement by a spokesperson for Sen. Maria Cantwell was added.