After months of uncertainty, Casper’s leaders will soon know much money the city will be receiving from the state Legislature.
A bill that would secure $105 million in state funding for local governments unanimously passed through the House Appropriations Committee this week with no amendments, according to Rick Kaysen, the executive director of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities.
SF 89, which is sponsored by the Joint Appropriations Committee, is now being reviewed by the House.
“At this point and time it looks favorable [to pass],” Kaysen said Thursday.
Although $105 million is the standard amount generally allotted, local leaders are worried this funding might be reduced because the state continues to collect below-average tax revenue due to low energy prices.
“I’m very grateful that the legislators recognize the importance of state assistance with these dollars,” said Kaysen.
City Manager Carter Napier said Friday he’s also enthused by the bill’s progression.
“It seems to be doing well and I certainly hope that support will continue from our House representatives,” he said. “It would be a big hit were the city to lose that support.”
Kaysen previously told the Star-Tribune that securing this funding has been the association’s primary objective throughout the last year.
Wyoming’s local governments have limited means of raising funds, which leave them largely dependent on appropriations from the state.
Kaysen pointed out that municipalities have already been trimming back on expenses due to the economic downturn and said leaders would continue to do so if the money doesn’t come through. He added that the association offers various budgeting workshops and programs to help with these efforts.
Although he acknowledged this suggestion might not be popular, the director said citizens expect their local governments to provide them with certain services, such as fire protection and solid waste management.
“There has to be some type of revenue source [to provide services],” he said.
A bill that would give 80 antelope licenses to a women’s hunt in northeast Wyoming is moving through the Legislature after a brief controversy surrounding the same number of licenses for an exclusive men’s hunt.
The Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt started in 2013 as a way to bring more women into hunting with an emphasis on mentoriship and raise money for the Wyoming Women’s Foundation. The fall hunt near Ucross pairs dozens of new female hunters with veterans of the sport.
Each hunter applies for and draws a tag similar to other resident and nonresident hunters in the state. But last year, the women’s hunt organizers asked lawmakers to set aside 80 licenses to guarantee their hunt into the future.
“It would provide sustainability and certainty for us in being able to provide the event,” said Rebekah Smith, director of the Wyoming Women’s Foundation. “Since it’s a coordinated event for 50 hunters, it’s hard for us to be nimble for where we offer the hunt. If we were to get the licenses it would allow us to be sure we could host the event each year.”
Another hunt, the Lander One Shot, already receives 80 licenses from the state each year. Only men are allowed on the teams, but women could be allowed to hunt with the past shooters, Carl Asbell, former president of the One Shot Club, told the Star-Tribune in April.
When the Women’s Foundation first asked for 80 tags in the 2016 legislative session, the bill failed.
It was raised again this year, and under the title Senate File 3, it passed through into the House.
But as the bill sat in a House committee, Rep. Joe MacGuire, R-Casper, amended it to say that instead of 80 tags for each hunt, the state should split the number, giving 40 to the men’s hunt and 40 to the women’s.
MacGuire questioned how much support a bill would have that gave 80 tags to an exclusive men’s hunt today, and he also wondered if it was fair to other resident and nonresident hunters when licenses are set aside for a specific event.
Smith, the women’s foundation director, said as their hunt grows, it will become more important for licenses to be set aside. Money from the hunt goes to the Women’s Foundation, which is a part of the Wyoming Community Foundation. The Community Foundation has given away more than $7 million to wildlife and conservation over the last five years.
“The reason for 80 is because current statute sets aside 80 for the Lander One Shot and it provides parity for the men’s hunt and women’s hunt,” Smith said. “We’re growing each year a bit, and we’re up to 50 hunters this year but we would like the flexibility to make sure we can grow with what we are able to get so we don’t have to come back and re-legislate.”
While the One Shot uses 24 licenses for its teams, the other 56 tags go to past shooters who attend the event.
Some of the tags are in hard-to-draw areas, which is why the Legislature voted to set aside the licenses in 1979, Asbell said.
Without the 80 tags, the hunt couldn’t happen, he added. The bulk of the proceeds from the hunt go to Water for Wildlife, a conservation group under the Lander One Shot that builds water tanks for wildlife in Wyoming and other states.
The exclusivity of the One Shot in areas that are hard to draw licenses has created controversy in the past, including during this year’s legislative session.
But many legislators defended giving the women’s hunt the requested 80 licenses and leaving the One Shot as it stands.
Some defended the One Shot and the money the hunt gives back to helping wildlife. Others said Wyoming has plenty of antelope.
The Senate added an amendment to specify that the licenses would be offered by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department only if the numbers were sustainable by the herds.
MacGuire’s amendment to split the number of licenses ultimately failed, but the original bill, to give the women’s hunt 80 tags, passed on first and second reading. It will go before the House this week on final reading and if it passes, head to the governor for a signature.
“We’ve been grateful for the support we’ve had,” Smith said. “It could certainly be a great thing for the women’s antelope hunt, and what we hope will be a longstanding tradition for antelope and women here.”
WASHINGTON — Russia will “never” extradite any of the 13 Russians indicted by the United States for election meddling, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, even as he insisted they didn’t act on behalf of his government.
Putin’s comments in an NBC News interview that aired Sunday illustrated the long odds that the Russian operatives ever will appear in U.S. court to answer charges of running a massive, secret social media trolling and targeted messaging operation to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The United States has no extradition treaty with Moscow and can’t compel it to hand over citizens, and a provision in Russia’s constitution prohibits extraditing its citizens to foreign countries.
“Never. Never. Russia does not extradite its citizens to anyone,” Putin said.
Even if the Russians never face justice in the United States, the sweeping indictment served the added purpose of increasing the public’s awareness about the elaborate foreign campaign to meddle in American democracy, legal experts have said. For years, the Justice Department has supported indicting foreigners in absentia as a way to shame them and make it harder for them to travel abroad.
The detailed, 37-page indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller last month alleges Russian operatives working for the Internet Research Agency used fake social media accounts and on-the-ground political organizing to exacerbate divisive political issues in the U.S. Posing as American activists, the operatives tried to conceal the effort’s Russian roots by purchasing space on U.S. computer servers and using U.S. email providers.
Yet Putin argued his government has little to answer for until the U.S. provides “some materials, specifics and data.” He said Russia would be “prepared to look at them and talk about it,” while repeating his government’s insistence that it had no role in directing the operatives to act against the United States.
“I know that they do not represent the Russian state, the Russian authorities,” Putin said. “What they did specifically, I have no idea.”
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule revision Thursday giving state agencies greater authority over one of the largest sources of industrial waste in the country — coal ash.
Utility groups say they support opening up the rule to changes that would provide certainty for the industry. Environmental groups are concerned that the proposed changes will remove the floor on coal ash standards. State regulators in Wyoming argue that they can oversee their own industries, following federal standards and decrease the current overlap of state and federal rules.
States like Wyoming are already building programs to deal with the waste, in accordance with a Congressional decision in 2016 to allow state governance over coal ash according to federal rules.
The proposal announced Thursday would revise the national standards states must adhere to with more than a dozen proposed changes. Issues like groundwater protection monitoring, for example, may be more flexible from one plant to another, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s press release.
There are different types of coal ash, from the sludge that collects in some types of boilers to the dusty powder left after incinerating coal. The ash can contain contaminants like mercury and arsenic, which pose a risk to groundwater.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 standards came about after a number of large incidents on the east coast, where coal ash storage failed and contaminated local waterways. The rules set a federal framework for construction and maintenance of coal ash disposal ponds and landfills. It requires companies to post the details of their coal ash disposal process online for the public.
The following year Congress passed legislation allowing states to develop coal ash programs as long as they were as strict as the Environmental Protection Agency’s new standards.
Wyoming had a state program regulating coal ash storage and disposal before the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015-rule, said Luke Esch, administrator of the Department of Environmental Quality’s Solid and Hazardous Waste Division. The state began rewriting its coal ash program in 2016 to prepare for primacy.
How the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed changes will effect the development of Wyoming rules is unclear at this point, he said.
Companies are currently following both federal and state guidelines, he said.
“Our regulations are still valid,” he said. “We are making sure those facilities are protected in this interim before we get a program in place.”
Wyoming has 23 coal-fired power stations currently operating in nine locations across the state. Rocky Mountain Power’s Dave Johnston Power Plant east of Casper held about 17.5 million tons of coal ash as of 2016, according to company records. The ash is stored about 1 mile north of the plant, which sits on the North Platte River.
Dave Johnston’s landfill is inspected weekly and annually, said Spencer Hall, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power.
“The state and federal regulations for coal ash have developed over time, so we’re constantly monitoring our facilities and taking action to prevent environmental impact,” Hall said.
Rocky Mountain Power works closely with Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality, and provides reports on coal ash disposal to the Environmental Protection Agency, he said.
The Salt Lake City-based utility has not lobbied directly for or against the Environmental Protection Agency’s coal ash regulations, but is part of consortium that lobbies on behalf of utilities, Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, part of the Edison Electric Institute.
The group supports the EPA’s recent proposal, arguing that it would give utilities and states more stability.
“Incorporating these federal standards will ensure there is a regulatory floor — that they are all taking the same approach to groundwater monitoring, facility design and those sorts of standards but applying them on a state-specific, site-specific basis,” said James Roewer, the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group executive director.
Right now the standards are self-regulated by industry, and that can cause problems when someone doesn’t think the utility is following the rules.
Interpretation of the standards can only be arbitrated in district court, when either a state or private citizen sues the power company, Roewer said. When a state has multiple district courts, like Wyoming, judges could feasibly come to separate decisions interpreting the standards within the same state, he said.
“That patchwork doesn’t make sense,” he said.
The EPA’s proposed changes could save utility companies between $31 million and $100 million per year, according to the agency.
Environmental groups see the proposal as a potential death knell for rules to protect health and the environment, like lining coal ash pits to keep seepage from polluting waterways.
Connie Wilbert, director of the Sierra Club’s Wyoming chapter, said she’s skeptical of Wyoming’s ability to regulate coal ash without a strong federal standard.
“We aren’t seeing the state take a strong position on any number of issues related to fossil fuels in general,” she said. “This proposed revision introduces a level of flexibility that we’re pretty uncomfortable with.”
What the Environmental Protection Agency has revealed is a weakening of baseline requirements, she said.
“We think that there should be an umbrella standard below which you cannot go,” she said. “Sometimes those case-by-case standards bypass that.”