It appears that Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) is up to some of his old tricks. Word inside Washington is that the junior senator from Wyoming is planning to add several amendments to gut bills intended to prevent another oil spill disaster in the United States.

According to a letter sent to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Barrasso and several other Republican senators intend to introduce amendments this week that would allow oil and gas companies to circumvent protections for air and water quality, wildlife habitats, and cultural and recreational resources in the name of speeding up onshore drilling in the U.S. This is not the first time Barrasso has tried this tactic.

In May, Barrasso introduced a similar stand-alone bill that would have rolled drilling protections back to where they were before the BP oil spill. That scheme didn’t work. But by adding this to legislation sponsored by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M) and the committee’s ranking member Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), he may be able to sneak the plan through, as many are eager to get some type of drilling regulation through Congress.

If he does go forward with his amendments, Barrasso would be doing so at a time when oil and gas companies are sitting on 7,000 permits. Moreover, 57 percent of the industry’s existing onshore leases, covering 20 million acres are sitting idle.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this plan is the fact that Barrasso loves touting that he is very conservative and in favor of small government. Yet his amendments would actually gut precautions at the most local level. For one thing, Barrasso’s plan would restrict opportunities for the public and local governments to challenge oil and gas decisions under the National Environmental Policy Act. It would also encourage government interference in energy markets by setting government-mandated oil and gas production goals on public lands.

While this doesn’t seem to jive with Barrasso’s seemingly constant conservative rhetoric, when you look at who funds his campaign the picture becomes clearer. Barrasso has taken $301,650 in oil and gas contributions since taking office four years ago.

With all this being said, the real test will not be whether Barrasso introduces some amendments this week, but rather if his ideas are welcomed by members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee or the Senate as a whole. We are likely to find out very soon. 

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