Capitol blog: Game and Fish funding bill died, but that’s not the end of the story

By Richard Garrett, Jr.

Your voice for conservation at the Wyoming State Legislature

State continues to seek primacy over greenhouse gas regulation, among other things

Here’s the latest rundown of the bills we are working on (often with others) to improve outcomes at the Legislature:

One of the most important bills of the session

House Bill 81 (HB 81), Wyoming Wildlife and
Natural Resource Trust — Large Projects

This is one of the most important bills of the session. If it succeeds, it will reaffirm the Legislature’s seven-year commitment to funding projects that help to protect the Greater sage-grouse and wildlife habitat.

Many legislators have complained that these kinds of projects close land in perpetuity from development, direct state resources to private landowners and conservation groups (land trusts), or are restrictive of mineral development.

The fact is, however, that the 19 large projects in this bill represent the only “skin-in-the-game” that Wyoming can provide to demonstrate to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that it is proactively working to balance conservation and resource development.

The projects in this bill are protective of our state’s wildlife and its habitat, and yet are hardly restrictive of the state’s major economic driver — mineral development.

To date, less than .15 percent of the state’s 63 million acres have been placed in conservation easements under the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust. There is no evidence that suggests that oil and gas development is jeopardized by the trust.

 

One good bill died, but the idea will be back

House Bill 260 (HB 260), Game &Fish Funding – license increases

When the interim-approved funding bill for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department was defeated early in the session, we worked successfully to have a substitute bill introduced and we were able to get it out of the revenue committee on a 5-4 vote.

Unfortunately, the budget-cutting mood of the State House doomed the bill and it was soundly defeated in that larger body.

Nevertheless, we found that a lot of legislators want to support a reliable funding mechanism for wildlife management in Wyoming. All of them have encouraged us to more fully engage in the upcoming spring/summer/fall interim to accomplish this.

The Game and Fish Department is currently held hostage by its funding model and those that would control it. We have to find a way to break that stranglehold and yet keep politics out of wildlife management.

As for why we succeeded in committee, it was in no small part due to a personal letter that Tom Bell wrote to the committee. Representative Patrick Goggles was particularly mindful of Tom’s message and acknowledged that to the committee.

 

One bill seems misunderstood

Senate File 162 (SF 162), Authorized taking of an eagle

This bill, perhaps misunderstood by the media, is one that would bring Wyoming law into conformance with federal law, which allows the limited taking of golden eagles in areas where they are depredating sheep.

While some believe it has implications on the Wind River Indian reservation, the bill was not sponsored as a way to resolve that ongoing issue.

 

 State once again acknowledges the existence
of greenhouse gases

House Bill 63 (HB 63), State primacy on greenhouse gas

As it did in the 2012 session, the Wyoming Legislature is trying to assert its authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

The keys to the bill are two — first the state can be no more restrictive than the federal government on emissions and second, the state has indicated to stakeholders that it will issue permits on a timelier basis than the federal government.

As was the case in 2012, it is somewhat remarkable that the state acknowledges the existence of greenhouse gases.

In testimony to the senate Minerals committee I maintained that the state should consider the economic and competitive advantages that stronger environmental regulations might bring. Here is the Casper Star Tribune article on the bill.

For more on this topic in general, check out Laurie Milford’s column, “Intransigence on climate pollution risks much, including Wyoming jobs.”

 

Seeking clarification on utilities bill

Senate File 142 (SF 142), Utilities – rate making

This is a seemingly simple bill, but one that might have potentially significant consequences for wind energy in Wyoming. I have written to the governor’s office, the bill’s sponsor, and others as follows seeking clarification on the bill and its intent:

As per our conversation, I would like to direct your attention to SF 142 (link is to the engrossed version which includes an amendment adopted on third reading in the Senate). While I am not an expert on avoided costs, FERC, and PURPA I do feel confident when I advocate on behalf of our members in favor of the deployment of renewable energy particularly if it is sited correctly and that energy is used in Wyoming to robustly supplement outdated generation facilities.

There is a great deal of uncertainty about this bill’s intent and its consequences, both immediate and long-term. From my point of view, if the bill is ultimately contrary to our advocacy objectives and our mission, it is one that our members will oppose.

Attached (and linked here) is what I believe to be an informative and highly detailed white paper regarding PURPA and avoided costs. In conclusion, its author, Carolyn Elefant, says:

“States use a variety of methodologies to determine avoided costs. State policymakers appear to have chosen policies based on several motivations, including ratepayer neutrality, least cost, and accuracy, or to provide incentives for development of certain types of renewables.”

It appears that the bill is intended is to direct regulators (specifically the PSC) toward specific methodologies and away from any that might be motivated to underpin the development of wind energy. Meanwhile, Governor Mead and many legislators have identified a balanced approach to energy development in the state as one objective of the state energy strategy. Inasmuch as that is a goal that we are all committed to achieving, I believe SF 142 might run somewhat contrary to achieving that goal.

I think it is worthwhile to note that existing infrastructure and facilities will almost always seem to provide a lower cost of goods and services to the consumer. My thought is that the challenges imposed on our way of life by the externalities of that use are seldom if ever calculated in a way that would make it more obvious to the end user of the risks of low cost energy. One of those risks (and hidden costs) became apparent late last year when the people (and especially women and children) of the state of Wyoming were warned against consuming too much fish due to elevated levels of mercury found in many species. If we take into account this potential challenge to one of our state’s many assets perhaps the cost of traditional energy generation would not be so attractive to consumers or decision-makers.

 

As always, I invite our members to share any information — with me or with legislators — that they think useful to this discussion.

 

Here is a list of some other topics and bills that we are following (more on these in my next report):

Eminent Domain

Energy education initiative

Bighorn sheep relocation

Office of Consumer Advocate (2 bills)

Municipal solid waste landfills

Conservation districts, special expertise

Select natural resource policy committee

Innocent landowner

Transfer of federal lands study

 

If you would like more information, you can find the specific bills at the legislative website or be in touch with me. Thank you!

Contact: Richard Garrett, richard@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org

 

Other posts you might want to see:

Capitol blog: Let’s keep politics out of wildlife management

AP: Wyo’s Gov to Pursue Required Groundwater Testing Prior to Drilling

Column: Intransigence on climate pollution risks much, including Wyoming jobs

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