Day 1, Wyoming State Legislature, 60th Session


By Richard Garrett, Jr.

AND THEY’RE OFF…

Governor Freudenthal’s State of the State

Perhaps predictably in the time of Tea Parties, Scott Brown, and the D.C. treadmill (go nowhere, but go there fast) the governor opted for a decidedly conservative run at the biennium budget. In fact, he went so far as to suggest that the legislature simply approve the Joint Appropriation Committee’s budget (one largely shaped around his own offering) and go home. This is a no-growth budget that back-stops the across-the-board cuts that the governor imposed in the summer of 2009.

Notably, the governor offered no insight on environmental issues. As I’ve talked with others, some think this is a good thing. To them it suggests no roll-backs and no cut-backs. I suppose that is a reasonable point of view except that the governor has flown to Washington at least 3 times in the last few weeks to push the Obama administration on its approach to federal land use and energy policy issues.

RUBBER ON THE ROAD

In practical terms, the governor opposes any use of the “rainy day fund” into which the legislature has squirreled some $700 million over the last several years. He is uncertain of any sustainable national economic recovery and notes that regardless, the Wyoming economy always lags behind national indicators.

The governor did address, as he did in a press conference last week, wind energy development in Wyoming. He is proposing, or supporting, four pieces of legislation he hopes will encourage wind development and yet give the state and local governments tools and resources to manage its growth. Thus he suggests that the Industrial Siting Act be amended to better account for wind development (he thinks that any project of 30 or more turbines should be subject to Industrial Siting review). Additionally, he advocates empowering counties to engage in the siting process.

The governor has also proposed a 3 percent excise tax on wind energy, the proceeds of which would be divided 60-40 (state-local) and used to offset some of the impacts of wind energy development on infrastructure. Finally, he is in favor of a one year moratorium on the ability of merchant generators (those companies that develop wind energy solely for transmitting power to other states) to exercise eminent domain for the placement of their collector or feeder lines (the power lines that would interconnect wind farm development with the larger interstate transmission grid).

Each of these ideas seem eminently practical (though the Wyoming Outdoor Council is neutral on the excise tax proposal). That said, we are probably going to push for a smaller number of turbines as a threshold for triggering the Industrial Siting process. This doesn’t seem unreasonable since a 30-turbine wind farm can occupy as many as 700 acres (or considerably more). Impacts to land, wildlife, and viewshed can be considerable and industrial siting should be strengthened to recognize this fact.

OTHER ACTION

In addition to the wind energy bills, we will be following bills related to carbon sequestration liability, rangeland health assessments, socioeconomic analysis of activities on state land, and other bills that almost certainly will be introduced by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, one bill, SF 21, that we intended to follow has already died, for two reasons (!) — the committee chair told me he won’t bring it before the committee and the business plan that supported the idea has faltered — thus support for the bill has evaporated. This bill was intended to amend existing legislation and extend a sales and use tax exemption to apply to an oxy-combustion and advanced coal facility (power plant) that was proposed to be constructed in northeast Wyoming.

AND FINALLY

The Wyoming Outdoor Council’s executive director Laurie Milford came to town and spent the afternoon at the Legislature. It was great to have her support and to see once again how well respected and recognized the Outdoor Council is.

Contact: Richard Garrett, Jr., energy and legislative advocate, Wyoming Outdoor Council, 307-332-7031 x18; richard@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org.

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