In a short budget Session, still some environment-related bills
Richard Garrett, Jr. of the Wyoming Outdoor Council discusses environmental bills at the fast-paced 2012 budget session of the Wyoming Legislature:
As I write this it’s 2 p.m., Friday, February 17 at the Wyoming State Capitol, which means the 61st session of the State Legislature has just about finished up its first week of the biennium budget session (which will include what many believe will be a spirited redistricting debate) in Cheyenne.
There are only three more weeks to go in this short session so both the House and Senate have been reluctant to approve for consideration too many bills that could distract legislators from their primary objectives—balancing the budget and preserving their legislative districts.
It’s against this backdrop that we’ve seen the rejection of some environmentally important bills, while at the same time others that have implications for our mission have survived introduction.
Puzzling that the nat gas powered vehicles bill was rejected
The House has just declined to support for further consideration House Bill 109 sponsored by Representative Jim Roscoe, which would have helped further the state’s evaluation of natural gas powered vehicles.
It’s a shame this bill was rejected since Wyoming operates more than 1,700 mostly diesel school buses, each of which achieves only about 7 miles per gallon in fuel economy.
With oil prices projected to continue to rise (and gasoline and diesel fuel with it)—and considering that those school buses cover a reported 76,000 route miles per day, and more than 12 million miles annually—it seems rather contrarian that the Wyoming Legislature is reluctant to explore a way to use an abundant, homegrown, and affordable fuel in its fleet.
What is even more puzzling is why this bill, which enjoyed strong support from the natural gas industry and Governor Matt Mead, could not muster the 2/3 votes necessary to move up the legislative ladder.
One Senate bill seeks an end-run around the judicial process
We’ve also seen the Legislature begin the process of trying to dismantle a victory that the Wyoming Outdoor Council won in district court last year regarding the way that the state’s Department of Environmental Quality issues water discharge permits for coalbed methane development.
The Outdoor Council’s watershed protection program attorney, Steve Jones, argued successfully that the DEQ’s one-size-fits-all approach to produced water permits in coalbed methane fields of the Powder River Basin was not only bad for the environment but also legally flawed.
The state is now scrambling to protect its approach to issuing general emissions permits across a broad range of activities including storm water management and pesticide spraying.
Senate File 85, if passed, will do an end-run around the judicial process and allow the state to issue general permits, applicable across the state, thus restricting the public’s ability to evaluate locally-specific impacts to the environment.
We’ve argued against this bill in committee and will continue to argue against it as it makes its way through the Legislature.
Tax credit for small renewables narrowly failed
Another bill that we (and a number of environmental organizations and renewable energy installation companies) supported, House Bill 79, narrowly failed introduction.
The bill would simply have extended a sales tax credit on the purchase of the equipment and materials needed for small-scale renewable installations, such as rooftop solar.
At $25,000 the fiscal impact to the state was insignificant while the benefits to individuals was significant. In a state where our leaders frequently argue that when it comes to energy we “need it all” their rejection of support for a fledgling industry seems shortsighted.
It’s worth noting, too, that this bill failed while a multimillion dollar tax reduction for the coal industry, House Bill 38, looks poised to have a much better fate (that is, if you’re a coal producer).
State could regulate greenhouse gases
All is not doom and gloom, though. We are supporting a bill, Senate File 86, that will enable the state to permit greenhouse gases in a way consistent with EPA regulations.
While this bill is limited and tentative, it represents the first time in memory that Wyoming legislators will link the two words (greenhouse and gas) together in any kind of environmentally responsible way.
Hybrid nuclear energy systems
Speaking of the “all of the above” approach to energy, the Wyoming Legislature is also considering any number of bills that are intended to fund further study of nuclear energy in the state.
One in particular, Senate File 14, will fund a state partnership with the Idaho National Laboratory for the evaluation of hybrid nuclear energy systems. The INL’s lead scientist on this project, Dr. Richard Boardman, is well credentialed and, as such, we expect him to be able to keep the state’s role in nuclear energy well focused and science based.
For now, that is all from Cheyenne. I’m lucky enough to be heading to Fort Collins, CO this weekend to watch the University of Wyoming versus Colorado State University men’s basketball game . . . Go Pokes!
P.P.S. Next Friday, February 24, is our legislative reception at the Plains Hotel. Our board and staff will be there as will any number of legislators. We hope you can attend. See our website for more information.