Coal in control as Wyo. senators ascend to top slots

Sen. John Barrasso

Sen. John Barrasso

Coal-state senators are poised to assume several of the most prominent leadership positions in Congress, promising to roll back a series of environmental regulations and offering a modicum of support to an industry badly in need of a lifeline.

The ascension of coal-field lawmakers sets the stage for a pitched battle over the future of U.S. environmental policy. Industry advocates see an opportunity for lawmakers to repeal a series of Obama-era initiatives, calling for an end to a moratorium on new federal coal leases and proposed caps on carbon emissions from coal plants.

Environmentalists, for their part, are raising alarms about potential efforts to gut the Clean Air Act, limiting the ability of future presidents to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

“I think the American people sent a clear message: They want change in Washington,” said Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican in line to lead the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “We heard that loud and clear from coal country and all around America.”

Barrasso joins a Republican leadership team that includes Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Budget Chairman Mike Enzi, a Wyoming senator who once served as mayor of the coal-field community of Gillette.

Analysts have questioned lawmakers’ ability to reverse coal’s decline (ClimateWire, Nov. 10). Low natural gas prices, they note, will continue to dictate coal’s future.

The trio nevertheless boast considerable power to shape the country’s energy and environmental priorities. Together, they will set the Senate agenda, decide the budget for regulatory agencies like U.S. EPA and the Department of the Interior and provide the final say over Cabinet appointments like U.S. EPA administrator.

All three have expressed doubts about human beings’ contributions to climate change and argued that Obama exceeded his authority in seeking to reduce U.S. carbon emissions.

McConnell, in a press conference last week, expressed hope that Donald Trump would roll back many of the executive actions taken during the Obama administration. He said he would recommend that the president-elect scrap the Clean Power Plan, EPA’s present carbon-cutting proposal, on day one of Trump’s administration.

Max D’Onofrio, an Enzi spokesman, echoed that sentiment, saying “Sen. Enzi is looking forward to working with the new administration to roll back the red tape. It is time the government ends its war on coal and other fossil fuels.”

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