We need your help with two bills at the Legislature

By Richard Garrett, Jr.
Your voice for conservation at the Wyoming State Legislature

ONE WEEK TO GO AND STILL MILES TO TRAVEL . . .

It’s the second-to-last Friday at the Wyoming State Legislature in Cheyenne. We’ve had many successes and a few disappointments as well.

Meanwhile, two important outcomes are still in doubt—and your influence might make the difference:

House Bill 152 (click here to read it), Very Rare or Uncommon—

I’ve written about this bill before (click here to read that post, which contains the details of the bill) and because we’ve fought so hard, its fate has yet to be determined.

Today in the Senate we are moving a third amendment to the bill—this one sponsored by Sen. John Hastert, which would allow the Environmental Quality Council to continue to designate federal or state lands as Very Rare or Uncommon while removing the authority to designate private property as VRU.

Many senators have indicated that a designation to private property represents a “taking” and we hope that by moving this compromise that we can win enough votes to keep the Very Rare or Uncommon designation in place and viable.

If our amendment fails (and the bill passes), we will ask Gov. Matt Mead to veto the bill and ask you to be in touch with him as well.

Senate File 73 (click here to read it), Municipal Landfills—

This bill was largely developed over the summer by the joint interim Minerals, Business and Economic Development committee.

If passed it will identify landfills that must be closed and prioritize the remediation of groundwater damage that has occurred due to their improper design, construction and maintenance.

While the bill is largely a good one, it contains language in its definitions section regarding groundwater and aquifers that we believe belongs only within the rules of the Department of Environmental Quality.

For this reason, we will ask the governor (and ask you to support this request) to use his line item veto power to strike the definitions provision of the bill.

By doing this, the intent and purpose of the bill will be fully retained but the legislature will not have adopted what we believe would be a dangerous precedent of placing in statute definitions that are outside of the Legislature’s duties and expertise.

While we never rely on a governor’s veto, it is an important—even crucial—part of the process. By being involved on a full-time basis at the legislature and influencing bills at every step in their journey through the House and Senate, we believe we have established a level of credibility that justifies asking the governor to exert his authority.

Our strength is magnified by our members who support this process and who, in turn, ask the governor to veto bills that we think are outside of the mainstream of the best interests of Wyoming’s people and our environment.

To be in touch with Gov. Matt Mead, you can email him at this link or you can call or fax:

307.777.7434 (phone)
307.632.3909 (fax)


Here are links to the two bills:

HB0152, Very Rare or Uncommon
SF0073, Municipal Landfills

  • In your message about Municipal Landfills, we ask that you simply ask the governor to stand up for Wyoming’s groundwater and to protect it for future generations by using his line item veto authority to strike the definitions section of SF0073.
  • When you contact the governor about HB0152, Very Rare or Uncommon, ask him to veto the bill and to affirm Wyoming’s commitment to and its recognition of areas that are truly unique and without comparison in our state.

Here are some additional points you might emphasize if you would like to expand your message about this bill:

  • The Very Rare or Uncommon designation is simple and modest—it applies only to non-coal surface mining. In practical terms this has most often meant that gravel mining has been restricted. Going forward, it could restrict gold mining or the exploration for rare earth minerals though each of those outcomes is far from certain. Roads can still be used, accessed and built on land designated as Very Rare or Uncommon; oil and gas leases can still be developed. And surface coal mining is still allowed.
  • A Very Rare or Uncommon designation does not appear to have had any remarkable influence on federal land management decisions. In a meeting two years ago in Rock Springs, a Bureau of Land Management official said that a VRU designation is one of at least 20 values that the BLM evaluates. In particular, it does not seem to have affected land use decisions in Adobe Town—much of that area was already being evaluated under a wilderness study process; that is the process that more likely has affected possible oil and gas leases there.
  • An incredibly tiny fraction of the state—less than 220,000 acres—have been designated as Very Rare or Uncommon lands and most of that acreage is in Adobe Town (185,000 acres +/-). To help put this into perspective: there are 63 million acres of land in Wyoming. About 48 percent of that is federally owned and about 3 percent is state owned. Thus less than .4 percent of Wyoming’s land has been designated as Very Rare or Uncommon. None of the area designated VRU in Adobe Town is privately held.
  • The original request for designation in Sand Creek in Crook County included private lands—that request was properly rejected by the Environmental Quality Council. The second application for VRU designation of the Sand Creek area included only federal land. That application was rejected. Private property owners, by their own choice, fought the Sand Creek designation despite the fact that it did not directly affect their property.
  • The Very Rare or Uncommon designation has been in place since 1976. It appears that about as many applications have been rejected as have been accepted. The process has worked reasonably and can be expected to work even more reasonably by specifically excluding private land from the possibility of a VRU designation.
  • Many important historical places such as Fort McKinney and the Medicine Wheel have been designated as Very Rare or Uncommon. Culturally important places, such as Devil’s Tower, have been designated. Adobe Town has been designated as VRU largely because it has geological features that are found nowhere else in Wyoming (and perhaps nowhere else in the country, if not the world).

Contact: Richard Garrett, Wyoming Outdoor Council legislative advocate, richard@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org; 307-438-9516.

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