Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming uses his powerful position as ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to bring attention to matters that affect electric cooperatives in his home state and throughout the nation, co-op leaders say.
“He helps us shine a light on our issues,” says Shawn Taylor, executive director of the Wyoming Rural Electric Association. “He’s always 100% behind anything we bring to him.”
Barrasso often intervenes with federal agencies on behalf of co-ops, Taylor says.
The Republican senator is currently working with co-op leaders to oppose a proposal from the U.S. Forest Service to increase fees for co-op rights of way on Forest Service land in the West.
“At NRECA’s recent Legislative Conference, the senator and our group joked how the federal government is throwing billions of dollars at rural America on one hand while simultaneously saying that if you want to get a right of way for rural broadband, you’ve got to pay higher fees,” Taylor says. “It’s like stealing from Peter to pay Paul. Sen. Barrasso is going to help us with that. He doesn’t pull any punches. He speaks his mind.”
Barrasso also has supported key legislation to boost co-ops and their members. He co-sponsored the successful RURAL Act of 2019, which enabled electric co-ops to keep their tax-exempt status when they accept government grants to recover from natural disasters, build clean energy projects or provide broadband service to rural communities.
More recently, Barrasso has co-sponsored the Flexible Financing for Rural America Act, which would allow co-ops to refinance the debt on loans they’ve received from the Rural Utilities Service at lower interest rates without being hit with prepayment penalties.
The 70-year-old senator is a friendly, energetic man who is known affectionately as “the Energizer Bunny,” Taylor says. “The guy does not slow down,” he says. “And he’s got a steel trap for a mind. He’ll remember the names of people in the audience at a co-op meeting even if he’s only met them once before.”
In Wyoming—the least populated state in the nation with less than 600,000 residents—co-op employees and members enjoy a close relationship with their lawmakers, Taylor says.
“When my office manager’s mother passed away, Sen. Barrasso sent a handwritten note to her,” he says. “We’re blessed in Wyoming that we have that kind of personal relationship with our lawmakers.”
When it’s time to lobby senators and House member sat NRECA’s annual Legislative Conference, Wyoming co-op leaders end up just having friendly chats with Barrasso because they already know that he’ll back them on the issues, Taylor says.
“All my RESMA [Rural Electric Statewide Managers Association] colleagues are jealous,” he says. “We know that Sen. Barrasso is going to support us, so we end up talking to him about things like how the crops are growing and who is in the middle of branding their cattle.”
The senator’s staff regularly checks in with Wyoming co-op leaders to get their views on energy issues, Taylor says.
“His staff and I talk quite a bit,” he says. “They’ll say, ‘The senator asked me to reach out to co-ops and see what your take is on this.’ He would be the first person we would call in D.C. to help us deal with a problem.”
Barrasso says “members of Wyoming’s Rural Electric Association work hard every day to keep the lights on across Wyoming.”
“Their mission is to provide safe, affordable and reliable electricity for their customers,” the senator says. “I am proud to champion our rural electric cooperatives in the Senate. As ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I’ll continue to fight to support their mission and restore America’s energy dominance.”
Barrasso has served in the U.S. Senate since 2007. He previously served in the Wyoming state Senate. In addition to his position as the senior Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Barrasso is chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, making him the third-highest-ranking member of the Senate’s GOP leadership team.
He is a medical doctor and worked as an orthopedic surgeon for 24 years. He served as president of the Wyoming Medical Society and was honored as Wyoming Physician of the Year.
Barrasso and his wife, Bobbi, have three children and live in Casper.