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A Rocky Mountain Power wind turbine kicks on as the morning breeze begins to blow June 28 near Medicine Bow.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

A number of energy bills hit the Wyoming Legislature this session, from proposals to set aside money to sue Washington State over a coal terminal to increasing penalties for infrastructure protests. Some bills gained easy traction and others failed quickly.

Here is an update on the bills that made it to week two, and those that did not.

Contested cuts

Enticing oil and gas development by cutting taxes is an idea that has so far found favor in the Senate. An exemption on severance taxes in the third and fourth years of production will offset the additional expense of operating in Wyoming, sponsors of Senate File 98 say. This will free up money for operators to invest in even more drilling in the state, they argue.

SF 98 passed through the Revenue Committee and was referred to the Senate Minerals Committee on Tuesday. If passed by the Senate, the bill will be sent to the House, where lawmakers could add amendments, pass or kill the bill.

Despite its success thus far, some are confident that the bill would lead to revenue loss for Wyoming.

“Contrary to the continuing fantasies of some, the oil and gas industry does not live and breathe on the whimsies of the Wyoming Legislature,” said Sarah Gorin, formerly of the Equality State Policy Center. Gorin was party to a study by University of Wyoming economists in 2001 that found tax breaks similar to the one proposed in SF 98 could do more harm than good.

The study, paid for in part by the Wyoming Legislature, was criticized by some at the time. An alternative study was not commissioned.

Senate President Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, argues that the bill allows Wyoming to reap taxes off the richest production period, years one and two, before providing the tax incentive during declining years three and four.

Prison over pipelines

A bill proposing prison terms for people who interfere with industrial infrastructure like pipelines and power stations has drawn controversy in Wyoming for its potential to chill free speech and heavily penalize protesters.

Sponsors of Senate File 74 told Andrew Graham of Wyofile that the bill would protect the operation of infrastructure that is critical to Wyoming. It proposes a 10-year maximum prison sentence for those inhibiting operations and fines of up to $1 million for groups that support the would-be saboteurs.

The bill would deter “ecoterrorism,” from those who oppose fossil fuels, said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta.

The bill has some significant support from lawmakers including Bebout, the senate president. But it’s drawn strong criticism for its broad language. The bill’s intent is to intimidate those who would protest energy development, opponents say.

“This is basically a shot across the bow, trying to scare us away from doing any kind of protests at all,” said Kim Floyd, executive secretary of the Wyoming AFL-CIO, in the Wyofile report.

Critics say the measure is a response to the 2016 protest again the DAPL pipeline in North Dakota, when thousands of Native Americans gathered for months to rally support against a pipeline they said compromised the Standing Rock Reservation water supply.

A Wyoming Northern Arapaho tribal member who protested at Standing Rock told Graham that the bill would not deter his efforts to transition the country away from fossil fuels.

“I honestly think this is trying to vilify people trying to protect their communities,” Micah Lott said of the bill.

Most sponsors interviewed by Graham of Wyofile shrugged off the allusion to Standing Rock, pointing instead to groups and individuals who would sabotage fossil fuel infrastructure for political reasons.

The Senate Judicial Committee recommended the bill pass with amendments. It was place on general file Monday awaiting a reading in the full Senate.

Others still in play

Senate File 82

  • — The Wyoming Miner’s Hospital board is strapped for cash, which is why the Appropriations Committee proposed a tightening of eligibility requirement for miners seeking financial assistance with health issues. The bill passed in the Senate with an amendment to protect those currently registered for benefits from the new requirements. It was received for introduction in the House on Monday.

Senate File 51

  • — Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, proposed a bill that would keep wind farms from evading some regulatory oversight by proposing multiple small farms instead of one large one. Senate File 51 gives the Industrial Siting Council greater authority to judge the potential impact of these projects on communities. It was referred to the Minerals Committee on Friday.

Dead on arrival

House Bill 25

  • — Allowing small mining operations, like gravel, to begin operations before receiving state regulatory approval failed the introductory vote 30 to 28.

House Bill 80

House Bill 104

  • — The perennial suggestion that Wyoming should increase its tax on wind production was not considered for introduction, effectively killing its chances this year.

House Bill 118

  • — Those looking to give wind manufacturers an incentive to come to Wyoming withdrew a bill allowing a tax credit on renewable equipment made in Wyoming. That bill would have also increased the wind tax and introduced a production tax on Wyoming’s fledgling solar electricity production.

House Bill 123

Senate File 47

  • — Wyoming will not reinstate a moratorium on eminent domain for wind development. Case, the Lander republican, proposed the moratorium, which failed an introduction by one vote.

Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner


Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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