Wyoming Senator John Barrasso just had a banner week on Capitol Hill.
The Republican chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Barrasso was thrust into the national spotlight as the conservative voice of opposition to the Green New Deal, a resolution put forth by Democratic rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to commit to radical and transformative changes in American life to dramatically reduce the nation’s emissions.
In the past month, the senator has been on national television approximately nine times to speak out against the Green New Deal and, on the day of the vote (where the resolution died) traded barbs with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on which party actually had pragmatic solutions to address climate change.
Though the resolution was just that – a resolution – the bill itself presented a symbolic existential threat to states like Wyoming, lending credibility to proposals that many Republicans argued would not only cost billions of dollars to implement, but would have negatively impacted the economies of energy-centric states like Wyoming to the tune of billions of dollars.
For a bill that was not only doomed to fail as well as unaffordable, why did the Green New Deal blow up to the degree it did? According to Barrasso, it largely had to do with standing up to Democrats, and forcing them to put their money where their mouths were.
“Alexandria Ocasio Cortez came out with it, introduced it, and the next thing you know, 12 senators co-sponsored it – all Democrats – including every senator who’s running for president. Every one of them,” Barrasso told the Star-Tribune last week. “And a number of them are on the committee I chair, the Environment and Public Works Committee. So that brought to it a level of attention, because some of these people are leading contenders for president.”
“We brought it to the floor of the Senate because so many of these Democrats said they’re for it,” he added. “Chuck Schumer said ‘bring it on,’ and Democrats are holding press conferences, they’re giving speeches about it while running for president in Iowa, California and Texas… that to me made it certainly an appropriate area for discussion. All of a sudden, they were just voting ‘present.’ That’s a lot of hypocrisy when you decide that you’re for it and touting it on television.”
Ocasio Cortez rebutted Barrasso directly in a tweet, saying that Democrats refused to vote on the bill “Because I encouraged them to vote present, along w/ others.”
“McConnell tried to rush the #GreenNewDeal straight to the floor without a hearing,” she added. “The real question we should be asking: Why does the Senate GOP refuse to hold any major hearings on climate change?”
Asked about this, Barrasso pointed to a Dec. 18 op-ed he had written in the New York Times, as well as several hearings his committee has hosted on climate change and carbon capture technology. He also said he has met with multi-billionaire Bill Gates twice to discuss other solutions, like improved nuclear energy, to help address climate change.
“He thinks we’re headed in the right place,” Barrasso said. “And Ernie Moniz (former President Barack Obama’s secretary of energy) was at the energy committee testifying, and I asked him a question and he said there are only two things that tend to scale that make the difference: finding a use for carbon, and advanced nuclear, which is safer, smaller and more efficient. There are real solutions. But this Green New Deal, it’s just us, and it’s drastic what they would do. They’re after oil, gas, coal and cows. It’s drastic, it’s unilateral and it’s immediate, and we ought to be spending our time on the research like is being done at the University of Wyoming.”
Climate talks could be difficult in both chambers, given the far-right members of the Republican Party have so far rejected many of the GOP’s counterproposals to combat climate change.
Wyoming’s appearances in Washington were frequent. On Wednesday, Wyoming State Engineer Pat Tyrell testified before the Senate Water and Power Subcommittee to address drought issues plaguing the Colorado River Basin, and on Thursday, Barrasso testified at a hearing on toxic contamination and funding for the Environmental Protection Agency to address those issues – mentioning F.E. Warren Airforce Base in his remarks.
“The Defense Department has identified 401 active or closed military facilities with known or suspected releases of PFOS or PFOA,” Barrasso said. “This includes the F.E. Warren Air Force Base and the Cheyenne Air National Guard Base in my home state of Wyoming. The Defense Department needs to take responsibility for its pollution. Most rural communities can’t afford to clean up this contamination.”
Monday: Gov. Mark Gordon will be speaking at events in Cody, Casper and Cheyenne to commemorate Wyoming Veterans Welcome Home Day, which was instituted at the close of the Vietnam War.
Wednesday: Western Governors’ Association meets in Denver for a two-day Working Lands Roundtable.
Thursday: State Loan and Investment Board/ State Board of Land Commissioners meets in Cheyenne.
Friday: Gov. Mark Gordon will speak at the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
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Do Wyoming’s politics make it hard to recruit “good people” at UW?
One of the biggest stories this past week has revolved around the removal of Laurie Nichols as president at the University of Wyoming. While little is known about why she was dismissed (our very own Seth Klamman has been all over it), UW faculty senate chairman Donal O’Toole had a very interesting quote in Inside Higher Ed’s coverage of the drama that may offer some hints at UW’s troubles with finding good staff: the state’s politics.
From the article: O’Toole said most faculty are simply longing for “predictability and stability so that we can just get on with things.” He noted that Thomas Buchanan, the last president who remained for more than a single term, stepped down in 2013, making the upcoming search the fourth since then. He and colleagues are also currently searching for a new dean, and Nichols’s surprise firing doesn’t help. “I can’t but believe it’ll make the searches a lot harder,” he said.
Despite its abundant natural beauty, he said, Wyoming is a hard place to recruit high-quality scholars. The state’s long winters, high elevation and political conservatism, among other factors, make it more difficult than at a public university in California, for instance. “Getting good people here is hard, and something like this, especially when it comes out of the blue, complicates those searches.” (via Inside Higher Ed)
ACLU sues South Dakota over “riot boosting” legislation: Semi-related to the types of issues covered under a controversial crimes against critical infrastructure bill here in Wyoming (which failed), the South Dakota Legislature passed a bill this year to establish a fund to receive civil recoveries to offset costs incurred by “riot boosting.” The American Civil Liberties Union is now suing to overturn the law, saying it violates people’s right to free speech and is unnecessary under current law. (via the American Civil Liberties Union)
Driskill says DC judge’s ruling on Wyoming oil & gas permits “idiotic… a tragedy”: Wyoming Senate Vice President Ogden Driskill has strong words on the ruling from Washington, D.C. judge Rudolph Contreras. (via CowboyStateDaily.com)
Enzi, Barrasso bash Affordable Care Act as federal government backs lawsuit that could unravel law: The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday said it supported a federal judge’s decision that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, backing a ruling that, if ultimately affirmed, would strip health care benefits from more than 24,000 Wyomingites and nearly 20 million Americans.(via Trib.com)
The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle’s Morgan Hughes did a stellar on-the-ground job covering a series of disturbing developments in the Laramie County School District this past week around a number of anti-gay and racist flyers that had been posted and distributed at a middle school in Cheyenne.
Local man wants to turn Sleepy Hollow into town: One Campbell County resident is making an effort to turn his subdivision into a town to save it from the city of Gillette. (via the Gillette News Record)
New commander of Wyoming National Guard takes over: The new leader of the Wyoming National Guard took over the reins of the state’s armed forces Thursday. (via the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle)
Nonprofits express growing needs during community partnership program funding requests: Many of Laramie and Albany County’s nonprofits and service organizations admit their needs are growing faster than current funding levels can sustain. (via the Laramie Boomerang)
Sen. John Barrasso’s preferred nominee to serve as Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, was grilled by the Senate Natural Resources committee on Thursday. A former coal lobbyist, his nomination has been criticized by everyone from lawmakers to hecklers dressed in swamp creature masks – an allusion to the allegations of his questionable ethics in rising to the nomination.
Sen. Mike Enzi managed to get his massive federal budget overhaul proposal through the Senate budget committee this week, marking a major – if quietly received – policy success in a raucous week in Washington.
Rep. Liz Cheney co-sponsored the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act of 2019, which clarifies the rights of Indians and Indian tribes on Indian lands under the National Labor Relations Act.
Follow politics reporter Nick Reynolds on Twitter @IAmNickReynolds