By Richard Garrett, Jr.
Your voice for conservation at the Wyoming State Legislature
Signs of spring, even indoors
While others may have been looking outdoors for signs of spring, those of us who have been largely confined (at least during daylight hours) to the state’s capitol building for the last four weeks in Cheyenne have had to look elsewhere.
This year, the familiar indicators were all there and in abundance.
Some of the signs include senators and representatives nervously stalking the lobbies of their opposite chambers to see how their bills were faring; press releases from the governor’s office scheduling bill signings; and the depletion of snacks at the lobbyist’s Capitol Club.
Yes, spring arrived in Cheyenne, even indoors. Here are some of the highlights of the season.
Senate File 85, General Permits
This bill, hastily sponsored by the joint interim Minerals, Business, and Economic Development committee just two days before the session began, represents what we regard as an environmental rollback.
The bill was authored in response to the Wyoming Outdoor Council’s successful suit against the state and its Department of Environmental Quality for the manner in which the agency had issued general, watershed-wide permits for water produced from coalbed methane development.
This is a bad bill only made marginally better because the Outdoor Council, its members, and colleagues in the environmental community worked throughout the session for the inclusion of an amendment that guarantees the public’s right to comment on the authorization of permits for 30 days after their issuance and another amendment, written by the Outdoor Council’s Steve Jones, which better defines exactly what a permit is.
This bill definitely circumscribes the intent of the court and our only solace, other than the amendments, is that almost to a person, legislators have expressed solid support for revisiting the law during the interim.
The Joint Management Council has tasked the joint Minerals committee to do just that and Senate President Jim Anderson has indicated his support for this review as well.
Senate File 86, Greenhouse Gas Air Quality Regulation
The Wyoming Outdoor Council not only supported this bill during the session but also was a consistent and early voice in advocating its consideration.
In September 2010 we heard an executive with the parent company of Rocky Mountain Power carefully suggest to a legislative interim committee that the state might consider the development of a greenhouse gas permitting process.
Seizing on this opportunity the Outdoor Council engaged with various stakeholders over the course of the next 18 months and urged that the topic be discussed during the 2010 interim meetings.
With the passage of this bill, the state has for the first time in recent memory linked greenhouse gases to regulation—a rather remarkable feat.
As is often the case, a great deal of work remains to be accomplished. The state’s regulation will be no more stringent than the federal government’s (this is language that allows the state to maintain its primacy, something that is always paramount on the minds of legislators). In turn, we argue that the state should take a more forward-looking approach and if only by the smallest of increments regulate greenhouse gases more closely than the federal government will.
We see this approach as offering the state a real chance to differentiate itself in a way that could prove to have important competitive advantages.
Wyoming could be viewed as among the healthiest of states, one where clean air is valued as highly as open space, clean water resources, and natural resource development.
I exchanged email messages with a Wyoming Outdoor Council member from Pinedale during the consideration of Senate File 86. Here is what that member wrote (it is a message that I shared during committee debates on the bill):
“If Wyoming is going to get out and stay out of the (National Ambient Air Quality Standards) non-attainment hassle, it is important that Wyoming DEQ keep our air at least one notch cleaner than federal requirements … so that as federal regulations become more stringent, Wyoming can remain problem-free (no EPA involvement, no State bureaucratic waste spent on non-attainment, no significant hassle factor which might deter new development!).”
It is this kind of encouragement and perspective that the state must have—I am grateful that our members are alert and informed.
Letting legislators know of this involvement (by 1,500+ members) is vital to our mission.
Senate File 42, Large Project Funding (Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Fund)
Since it was first created, Wyoming’s Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust has helped conserve natural habitat and is rightfully seen as one of the Wyoming Legislature’s signature achievements.
This year the trust (and Governor Mead) asked for support from the Legislature for 13 conservation easements. The Outdoor Council was personally asked by the governor for our support on this bill, a role we were glad to play during the session.
In fact the governor was following through on a pledge that he made last year after the Legislature removed the authority of the Environmental Quality Council to designate areas as Very Rare or Uncommon. The governor said then that he wanted to find other ways to recognize areas of the state as rare or uncommon, saying that he views conservation easements as one example of how the state, by leveraging its resources for dimes on the dollar with federal programs, can do just that.
The success of the “Large Project Funding” bill this year was never certain, particularly since so many in the Legislature oppose conservation easements. It is fair to say that the Wyoming Outdoor Council was an important role player in helping to make sure this legislation passed.
Senate File 41, Wolf Management
This bill came as a result of the announcement of an agreement between Governor Mead and the Department of the Interior to work toward securing a delisting of the wolf in Wyoming. The Outdoor Council has long advocated statewide trophy game management for the wolf, carried out by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Sadly, that is not a position that has proven politically achievable. The compromise between the governor and the Interior Department means that the wolf will have a dual classification status, one that is further compromised by a ‘flex-line’ in Teton County that will be adjusted on a seasonal basis.
We are glad to note, however, that even with the signing of the bill there remains some thought that this dual status designation might ultimately, and with continued diligence, result in a single statewide trophy game status for the animal. Be assured that we will continue to monitor developments and keep our members informed.
Senate File 14, Nuclear and Hybrid Energy System Related Projects
Wyoming has long been one of the nation’s leaders in the production of uranium—a role that the state is likely to continue to promote given the reserves available.
The state’s enthusiasm for nuclear development must be tempered against the prospects for waste storage, costs of development, environmental consequences, and system failures.
It is against this backdrop that the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources and the Idaho National Laboratories will enter into a partnership to take the very first steps toward better understanding exactly what path forward, if any, hybrid energy systems might have in the state.
While many are rightfully concerned about the problems posed by nuclear energy, it is crucial that the Outdoor Council be engaged in a constructive way in the discussion because if we are not we risk becoming marginalized.
The Idaho National Laboratories’ lead scientist on the project is Dr. Richard Boardman. The INL will contribute funding equal to Wyoming’s commitment of $250,000 for the study.
It is Dr. Boardman’s vision that small-scale, fail-safe next-generation and/or hybrid systems are a crucial way to achieve significant reductions in the production of anthropogenic greenhouse gases.
The study is sure to test that vision.
Senate File 71, Aquatic Invasive Species
This bill (and its predecessors) won strong support from the Legislature and is one that we supported as well. The challenges posed to the state’s recreation, tourism, and agricultural industries by invasive species (zebra and quagga mussels in particular) cannot be ignored.
Because Wyoming has taken a proactive position, the state is, thus far, believed to be free of these invasive predators. It seems crucial to the Outdoor Council that we support the state in all that it can do to avoid the consequences of the compromises to our surface water that the invasive species represent.
Senate File 77, Expenditure of public funds and government competition
While this was kind of a dark horse bill to follow (even though its sponsor, Senator Cale Case of Lander, is a long time supporter of many of our key issues) we found some justification to support it, primarily because it will task the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information with expanding its public website to include input from… the public.
While this website is primarily intended to field concerns from the general public about government competition with the private sector, we view it as an opportunity to learn in yet another way some of the problems that government might try to “solve” in its effort to get out of the way of private industry.
We will be sure to monitor this website and hope that you will, too.
House Bill 47, Omnibus Water Bill construction
This bill includes $750,000 in funding for a domestic water supply for rural residents of Pavillion, where some residents’ water wells have been contaminated, possibly as a result of gas drilling operations in the area.
This bill acknowledges the degradation of the groundwater resource and the responsibility of the state to be proactive in offering affected citizens access to clean water, reliably and affordably delivered.
This is a principle that the Outdoor Council has advocated and a challenge that Governor Mead embraced.
This bill serves as one small step forward in a complicated process that will, we hope, ultimately reveal the reasons that groundwater in rural Pavillion has been contaminated.
The governor and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson have recently agreed to a more cooperative and collaborative engagement in the scientific process regarding study, peer review, and analysis of the rural Pavillion groundwater issue.
As even the most casual follower of the Legislature knows, it’s not just a seasonal phenomenon but a year-long traveling road show.
The Wyoming Outdoor Council will be there every step of the way.
For more information, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with our Energy and Legislative Advocate, Richard Garrett. He can be reached, indoors or out, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-438-9516
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