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Pinedale Online > News > October 2016 > Wyoming Legislature update: Minerals, Business, Economic Development
Wyoming Legislature update: Minerals, Business, Economic Development
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
October 17, 2016

October 17, 2016
Hello Sublette County, on October 10-11 in Rock Springs, I participated in a meeting of the Joint Minerals, Business, and Economic Development Committee. Our committee heard reports and proposed legislation from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ). We also heard presentations on the Bitter Creek Abandoned Mine Land project, the President's Clean Power Plan litigation, the wind power industry, the trona industry, and the bentonite industry. In addition, Wyoming State Banking Commissioner, Albert Forkner, presented legislation on bank service corporations, and helped the committee understand Bitcoin.

WDEQ brought forth five bills for our consideration on the first day of the meeting, and we passed all of these bills out of committee to be considered in the next General Session of the Legislature. The first bill dealt with fuel storage tanks used for commercial purposes, with updates to statute that would conform to federal regulations, such as clearly defining fuel storage tank licensure requirements.

The next two bills updated community priority lists for municipal waste Cease and Transfer and Landfill Remediation programs. In another bill, we further revised our Nuclear Regulatory Commission agreement state statutes to conform with federal regulators, allowing Wyoming to be the lead regulator in uranium mining.

The last bill updates old statutes which authorize a process for Wyoming to site a temporary nuclear waste facility. The bill brings fees to today's standards, and eliminates language referencing the failed Yucca Mountain permanent nuclear waste depository. This bill does NOT authorize nuclear waste in Wyoming, and in fact the statute details a process which would require legislative approval of any proposed temporary nuclear waste facility in Wyoming. The federal government would have to create a permanent nuclear waste depository somewhere in the US before Wyoming could consider siting a temporary facility. I think it is highly unlikely that temporary storage will be needed if the federal government ever develops a permanent depository, because nuclear waste is being temporarily stored at nuclear power plants. It seems more likely that the Feds would set up a temporary waste site adjacent to where they create a permanent depository, to reduce double shipping the waste, but this is conjecture on my part.

We passed another banking bill out of committee, giving the Wyoming Banking Commissioner the authority to regulate bank service corporations. Currently, banks farm out some of their technical operations to service corporations, which had not been under state oversight. It is important that these service corporations have oversight to ensure that customers' information is secure. On the topic of Bitcoin, a type of digital currency, the banking commissioner felt this currency was too unsecure to even consider for regulation, and will remain a buyer beware market.

We heard reports on both the Industrial Siting Council and the Environmental Quality Council (EQC) to see if these departments could be improved. They have very different missions, so combining is not an option. The Industrial Siting Council reviews very large industrial projects, such as large wind energy projects, to determine community impacts, and then assesses a community impact fee. Large scale oil and gas development is exempt from this statute, which is why Sublette County municipalities did not receive impact assistance under this program during the last boom. This makes it difficult for communities experiencing an oil and gas boom, because ad valorem tax generated by mineral development does not reach communities for nearly two years. The lag time makes it difficult to enhance infrastructure at the beginning of a boom.

Industry is questioning the appeals process to the EQC, for permitting of projects under the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. They believe an appeal through the EQC slows down the permitting process, and they would rather see appeals go directly to district court. The Environmental Quality Council serves as an independent entity that reviews matters concerning the prevention, reduction and elimination of pollution, including preservation of Wyoming's water, air and land quality. I believe the EQC appeals process provides a valuable forum for individuals and landowners who cannot afford an attorney to go to court. Most appeals to the EQC are resolved before going to court, and I think resolution outside of a courtroom is more productive for the citizens of Wyoming. Very large permits maybe better served by skipping the EQC appeals process, as both industry and an environmental organization advocated for that. We will investigate that scenario next summer.

We received an update on the litigation of the President's Clean Power Plan. The plan was issued in October 2015, and was litigated by several states and corporations. A three-judge panel denied a stay by the states in January 2016, followed by an unprecedented stay of the Clean Power Plan by the US Supreme Court. An oral argument before the DC Circuit Court of Appeals was heard in September 2016 to determine the legality of the Clean Power Plan. Much of the legal debate focused on the EPA's existing rule-making authority under the Clean Air Act to implement the "best system of emissions reduction," and whether Congress meant the word "system" to apply only to the machinery inside power plants or more broadly to the various ways that electricity can be generated. Wyoming and others contend the EPA is mandating how a state can generate its electricity, which they believe is outside the scope of EPA's authority. Six of ten justices are Democratic appointees, which does not bode well for Wyoming's appeal.

The Clean Power Plan's goal is to reduce CO2 emissions 32 percent, from 2005 levels, by 2030. EPA's final rule would require coal-fired power plants to reduce CO2 emissions to 1305 lbs/megawatt hour, which is unfeasible with current technology. The Rhodium Group forecasted a decline in Wyoming coal production by 31 percent to 49 percent, comparing 2020]2030 to 2014 production. In my lifetime, the climate of Sublette County has certainly warmed, but I believe the nation should retain a diverse portfolio of power generation, including coal, natural gas, hydro-electric, wind, solar, and nuclear. It is believed that we will not reach the targets in the Clean Power Plan, but we could improve our technologies and diversify our generation without putting Wyoming and other states out of business. Wyoming is capable of producing energy in many forms, including renewable sources. Some population centers in the US like the idea of renewable energy (wind and solar farms), as long as they are eating up other's landscapes, not their own. We need a diverse portfolio of power generation, new technologies, and not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Pinedale Online > News > October 2016 > Wyoming Legislature update: Minerals, Business, Economic Development

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