You are the owner of this page.
A1 A1
Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune 

Jessica Baxter, director of operations at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming, and others with the organization hope to promote a "culture of wellness," with emphasis on healthy eating, physical activity and emotional well-being. 

Wyoming Supreme Court weighs competing rights of oil and gas and coal leases

The Wyoming Supreme Court threw up its hands Thursday in a contested case between a coal company and an oil and gas firm over the right to mine.

Peabody Energy, the largest coal producer in Wyoming, and Berenergy, a private, Denver-based oil company, each argue that they have superior rights to mine coal and drill for oil and gas, on the same patch of Wyoming.

Their federal leases essentially overlap and the minerals cannot be economically mined at the same time, according to the court documents.

The companies sought court decisions to solve their conflict, both arguing that various statutes and policies governing leasing of federal minerals gave their businesses priority. The federal agency that oversees leasing of federal minerals in Wyoming has not been part of the legal disagreement between Peabody and Berenergy.

That’s a problem, according to Justice Michael K. Davis, who wrote the Supreme Court’s decision. The conflict requires a federal decision, Davis wrote. The court acknowledged the importance of the outcome of this dispute to both firms, and to the local county that receives the revenue.

“Berenergy seeks to protect its right to produce oil and gas, a right it has even though those wells are apparently near depletion,” Davis wrote.

Peabody would make substantially more money from mining the coal, not to mention benefit the community from revenue and jobs, he added.

“Nonetheless, the state courts are not the proper forum to settle the rights of these federal lessees,” he said.

The case came to the Supreme Court after the companies appealed a two-year-old compromise brokered by the District Court of Campbell County.

It had Berenergy shutting down its wells and allowing Peabody to extract the coal when it was ready to do so. Peabody would then have to compensate the oil and gas company, and put $13 million in escrow to cover the oil and gas firm’s potential costs down the line.

But, neither company was pleased with the decision. Berenergy protested halting oil production, for what amounted to first use rights for the coal firm, despite Berenergy’s preexisting lease rights, while the coal firm contested fronting $13 million, an amount that they alleged was extortionist.

The myriad policies regarding who is right all lead back to the feds, the Interior Department, or even Congress, the justice wrote.

Both the Wyoming Supreme Court decision, and the District Court decision from 2015, note the curiosity of the Bureau of Land Management’s absence in the dispute.

“Political issue can be thorny, but in this case, the political issue of who should go first (oil and gas or coal) when concurrent mineral development on federal lands may not be possible, seems to be a thorny issue that the BLM should be answering,” the District Court decision states. “The entity charged with protecting the public’s interest has decided to sit this one out.”

A spokeswoman for the agency did not comment on the details of the case.

“BLM Wyoming is currently reviewing the recently issued decision to determine our next steps,” said Spokeswoman Kristen Lenhardt.

The case concerns the area of the North Antelope Rochelle Mine, just south of Wright. It is the largest surface coal mine in the country and employed more than 1,300 miners as of September.

A spokeswoman for the company said she could not comment on the details of the case, but said that Peabody looks forward “to working with the appropriate parties to resolve the issue.”

A message left at the Berenergy offices in Denver was not returned by press time.

Wyoming Supreme court has remanded the case back to the lower court to figure out if the federal agency can join.

“If it cannot be made a party or does not choose to participate, which is very likely,” Davis wrote. “The district court must dismiss the case.”

Christine Peterson, Star-Tribune  

A rig operates in the vicinity of existing oil wells last May in the Powder River Basin. With oil prices pushing $60 per barrel and natural gas prices improving, Wyoming's economic challenges have eased. But longer-term economic issues remain unresolved. 

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune  

Roy Merrill, an engineer at a Wold Energy drilling site near Rolling Hills, points out various parts of the rig recently during a tour of the well. Crude oil and natural gas prices are up, but Wyoming's long-term economic issues are unresolved. 

Bannon tries to make amends as aides defend Trump's fitness

WASHINGTON — Faced with a growing backlash, Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's former chief strategist, released a statement Sunday reaffirming his support for the commander in chief and praising Trump's eldest son as "both a patriot and a good man."

Bannon infuriated Trump with comments to author Michael Wolff describing a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York between Donald Trump Jr., Trump campaign aides and a Russian lawyer as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic."

But Bannon said Sunday his description was aimed at former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who also attended the meeting, and not Trump's son.

"I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr has diverted attention from the president's historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency," Bannon said in the statement, first obtained by the news site Axios. Bannon said his support for Trump and his agenda was "unwavering."

Hours before the statement came out, administration officials used appearances on the Sunday news shows to rally behind Trump and try to undermine Wolff's "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," which portrays the 45th president as a leader who doesn't understand the weight of his office and whose competence is questioned by aides.

Chief policy adviser Stephen Miller, in a combative appearance on CNN, described the book as "nothing but a pile of trash through and through."

He also criticized Bannon, who is quoted at length by Wolff, saying it was "tragic and unfortunate" that Bannon "would make these grotesque comments so out of touch with reality and obviously so vindictive."

CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Trump was "completely fit" to lead the country, pausing before answering because, he said on "Fox News Sunday," it was such "a ludicrous question."

"These are from people who just have not accepted the fact that President Trump is the United States president and I'm sorry for them in that," said Pompeo, who gives Trump his regular intelligence briefings.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said she is at the White House once a week, and "no one questions the stability of the president."

"I'm always amazed at the lengths people will go to, to lie for money and for power. This is like taking it to a whole new low," she told ABC's "This Week."

To Miller, "the portrayal of the president in the book is so contrary to reality, to the experience of those who work with him."

Miller's interview on CNN's "State of the Union" quickly grew heated, with Miller criticizing CNN's coverage and moderator Jake Tapper pressing Miller to answer his questions and accusing him of speaking to only one viewer: Trump.

Tapper abruptly ended the interview, saying: "I think I've wasted enough of my viewers' time."

Soon after, Trump tweeted: "Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump Administration. Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky!"

Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to defend his fitness for office, insisting he is "like, really smart" and, indeed, a "very stable genius." He pressed the case again on Sunday as he prepared to depart Camp David for the White House.

"I've had to put up with the Fake News from the first day I announced that I would be running for President. Now I have to put up with a Fake Book, written by a totally discredited author," he tweeted.

Wolff's book draws a derogatory portrait of Trump as an undisciplined man-child who didn't actually want to win the White House and who spends his evenings eating cheeseburgers in bed, watching television and talking on the telephone to old friends.

The book also quotes Bannon and other prominent advisers as questioning the president's competence.

On Sunday, two days after the book's release, WikiLeaks tweeted a link to an electronic image of the text. Posting the text of a book without permission would violate copyright restrictions and potentially damage sales. Yet, hours after WikiLeaks tweeted the link, "Fire and Fury" remained No. 1 on Amazon's lists of hardcover and ebook bestsellers.

Chatter about Trump's mental fitness for office has intensified in recent months on cable news shows and among Democrats in Congress.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders this past week called such suggestions "disgraceful and laughable."

"If he was unfit, he probably wouldn't be sitting there and wouldn't have defeated the most qualified group of candidates the Republican Party has ever seen," she said, calling him "an incredibly strong and good leader."

Trump and some aides have attacked Wolff's credibility, pointing to the fact that the book includes a number of factual errors and denying that the author had as much access as he claimed.

"He said he interviewed me for three hours in the White House. It didn't exist, OK? It's in his imagination," Trump said Saturday.

Wolff told NBC on Sunday that "I truly do not want to say the president is a liar," but that he had indeed spoken with Trump for about three hours during and since the campaign.

Trump has repeatedly invoked Ronald Reagan, tweeting Sunday that the former president "had the same problem and handled it well. So will I!"

Reagan died in 2004, at age 93, from pneumonia complicated by the Alzheimer's disease that had progressively clouded his mind. At times when he was president, Reagan seemed forgetful and would lose his train of thought while talking.

Doctors, however, said Alzheimer's was not to blame, noting the disease was diagnosed years after he left office. Reagan announced his diagnosis in a letter to the American people in 1994, more than five years after leaving the White House.

Economists say 2018 may be better for Wyoming, but long-term issues are still unresolved

Recovering commodity prices mean Wyoming’s 2018 economy is likely to be better than last year, but several long term trends suggest the Cowboy State continues to face several roadblocks to significant growth.

With oil prices pushing $60 per barrel and natural gas prices improving as well, many of the challenges caused by the energy bust that hit Wyoming two years ago may be eased. The improvements in the oil and natural gas industries are important because the state relies on energy companies for roughly 70 percent of its tax revenue and the bust has led to a several-hundred-million dollar budget deficit.

Revenue projections made last October found that the state had enough to cover its standard budget, meaning the regular cost of providing state services with the exception of education. It was an improved commodity price forecast that led to the boost in projected revenue.

“Those are things that I think are going to make the state’s budget easier,” said University of Wyoming economist Rob Godby. “It seems that we have a reasonably sustainable budget at current level.”

But a stabilized natural resource sector isn’t enough to fix the state’s larger economic woes. Even the higher oil prices are unlikely to drive the benefits normally associated with a strong energy industry in Wyoming, such as higher sales tax revenue and service industry jobs catering to the industry.

Jim Robinson, an economist with the state’s Economic Analysis Division, said that oil companies, for example, will need to see another six months or so of $60 per barrel prices before they expand operations in Wyoming.

The good news is that prices have remained around that point for several months already and Robinson said it appears that global demand and supply reductions by some foreign nations will keep prices high for at least a few more months.

“Some of it is companies are waiting to see if prices are really going to stay that way, even get better,” Robinson said. “The industry just needs to see those prices are going to be there for more than one more month.”

But Robinson cautioned that once production is increased, the prices may fall once again as the supply exceeds demand.

Mark Haggerty of Headwaters Economics in Montana said that while oil and natural gas were likely to be stronger in 2018 than in the last two years, coal is expected to see a long, downward trend.

“Coal has changed from a stable, predictable base load source of generation to one that is now dispatched over a shorter time frame with other fuels,” Haggerty said. “That’s one of the reason why the energy markets that affect Wyoming are less certain now.”

Outside of energy, both Godby and Haggerty said that Wyoming is facing long-term challenges that are unlikely to be solved over the next twelve months.

Haggerty said that big cities are increasingly the center of economic activity because modern industries like high-tech require clusters of similar companies and a highly-educated workforce. Some smaller communities in the Mountain West have found success in creating clusters of economic activity, but those towns usually have what Haggerty referred to as the “golden triangle”: a national park or other attractive outdoor offerings, an airport with flights to major destinations around the country and a university.

Wyoming lacks any community that ticks all of those boxes and with the state coming off the largest population drop since the 1980s, Godby said that even if Wyoming’s energy economy stabilizes, the success of neighboring states like Montana, Idaho and Colorado is likely to hurt Wyoming.

“The economies around us are some of the hottest economies around the country so potentially they will continue to draw population out of the state,” Godby said. “We’ll just have to see.”

Friends, family raise funds for Casper native found to have rare brain tumor following truck crash

Nothing has been normal for Casper native Travis Ziehl since driving to work on Dec. 8.

While driving 55 mph down the highway to his Jackson business, Ziehl had a seizure. His muscles contracted. He lost consciousness. Suddenly, his truck veered across four lanes, charged across a field and crashed into the side of a house, hitting a gas line.

Miraculously, nobody else was injured, Ziehl’s wife, Monika, said. But the couple had more challenges ahead.

After the accident, Travis was conscious long enough to ask staff at St. John’s Hospital to call Monika, who arrived within minutes from her job at Jackson Hole Trust Company. But then Travis had another seizure and fell unconscious again. Later that day, he flew via air ambulance to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls. The Jackson hospital did not have a neurologist, and Travis needed one.

“He was three nights in Idaho Falls,” Monika said. “Originally we were just told that it was a cyst on his brain, and that it was a case of figuring out the right meds and he should be fine.”

Unfortunately, that was not the case.

“He never got better, and his symptoms just kind of kept getting worse,” Monika said. “He was having micro seizures at home and we ended up back in the ER in Jackson.”

The next day, the couple was back in Idaho Falls. The neurologist there increased his meds, again.

On Dec. 30, Travis underwent a scheduled followup MRI at St. John’s. That’s when they got the news.

“We were not expecting any results that day at all, and the radiologist at St. John’s gave us the news that he has a PXA brain tumor,” Monika said.

In shock, the couple took immediate action. Within days, they secured an appointment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where Travis will undergo surgery sometime in the near future. Despite the uncertainty, Travis remains in good spirits, Monika said.

“I am feeling much more relieved now that we are actually here,” she said. “The fear was that his condition would worsen and he wouldn’t be able to travel.”

Monika said his symptoms are kind of alarming. The numbness in his face is getting worse. He’s very sensitive to sound and light. He’s more confused and struggles to speak.

“He seems to get kind of easily frustrated and gets tired pretty easily, but I think he’s doing remarkably well considering what he’s been through,” Monika said.

While the couple waits for more information, their friends and family have been raising money for Travis’ medical expenses. Although the Ziehls live in Jackson, Travis grew up in Casper, where he attended Natrona County High School and Casper College before working at Hogadon Ski Area and Natrona County Weed and Pest.

Monika’s sister, Erika Edmiston in Jackson, started a GoFundMe account on Wednesday with a goal of $50,000 for medical expenses. By noon on Friday, 149 people had donated $17,083.

Earlier Friday, Monika was unaware that so much had been raised.

“He is such a kind and thoughtful and giving person,” she said. “I am so amazed at the amount of people who have come forward to show kindness and love and generosity back towards us. He’s always been the kind of person who just puts everything aside to help somebody else.”

And as for Monika, she’s hanging in there.

“Sleep has been really hard to come by,” she said. “I’m running on very little sleep over the last month. It’s been really tough. It doesn’t even feel like we’re living our life.”