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Energy Journal: What does the next generation envision for Wyoming's future?
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ENERGY JOURNAL

Energy Journal: What does the next generation envision for Wyoming's future?

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When I’m out reporting, I try to ask myself: “Who is missing from this story?” The question helps me pause and make sure the story I’m reporting is balanced, fair and uncovers what’s really going on.

Back in November, before the pandemic upended our lives, I found myself asking that very question. I was attending one of the Legislature’s interim-committee meetings at Casper College. Sitting in the back of the room, I listened to lawmakers debate the future of the coal industry — no small topic for the state leading the nation in coal production.

One after another I heard the opinions of lawmakers, state and county officials, lobbyists and attorneys. But I noticed that Wyoming’s next generation, the very people who will have no choice but to contend with the consequences of these energy-related decisions, were completely absent from the room.

Fast-forward several months, and the state is facing one of its most devastating financial crises in history, the pandemic appears far from abating and our energy industries are on their knees.

With even more urgency, I have been asking: What do young people in Wyoming think about all this?

Their voices matter and deserve a platform.

For the past several months, I have been speaking with high school and college students to learn what kind of state they want to live in and what kind of future they yearn for.

What solutions do they propose the state enact as our traditional, energy-based industries decline?

Last week, I visited Professor Melissa Connely’s class on natural resources and the environment at Casper College. Over the course of the afternoon, I listened to what her students thought about the current state of Wyoming’s energy sector and economy. Their rich and detailed responses ranged from suggestions to invest in alternate energy sources, increase taxes if they will help conserve our natural resources and expand tourism.

This fall, the Star-Tribune will publish a special section, created by young people in Wyoming, outlining their concerns, sharing what they value and offering up some solutions.

I hope you will join with me in listening to their ideas.

The project is made possible through the support of the Solutions Journalism Network. It’s an organization helping journalists not just report on the problems society faces, but also making sure reporters are amplifying the solutions proposed by communities.

If you or someone you know is interested in participating in this project, please reach out anytime at camille.erickson@trib.com or call 307-266-0592. Submissions will be due by Sept. 28.

Last week’s news roundup

Coal

  • Gov. Mark Gordon finalized the first round of state budget cuts last week, amounting to more than $250 million in reductions as the state reels from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The state faces a $1.7 billion revenue shortfall brought on by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and a global oil price war. As travel and business screeched to a halt, Wyoming’s energy sector faltered. A decline in coal production prompted several rounds of layoffs and furloughs. “The ability of those industries to continue to carry that load has been compromised; there’s just no question about that,” Gordon said.
  • In one of few bright spots for Wyoming’s economy, environmental regulators say cleanup projects at abandoned mine sites have been in full swing across the state, not only producing much-needed jobs, but funneling millions of dollars into local economies.
  • The Wyodak coal mine just outside Gillette will soon become the new staging ground for phase three of a pilot project seeking what just years ago seemed impossible: burn coal with little to no emissions in a way that’s cost-effective. The utility Black Hills Energy announced it will come on board to support the project, too.
  • Several environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management last week alleging a final resource management plan violates the National Environmental Policy Act, because the federal agency did not properly consider the public health and environmental consequences of coal combustion. The management plan opened up approximately 50,000 acres of public land in the Powder River Basin for federal coal mining.

OIL & GAS

  • The Bureau of Land Management announced it will hold an oil and gas lease sale in December to offer 282,731 acres of federal land and minerals for development. Several of the nominated parcels for December’s competitive sale fall north of Casper and north of Rock Springs
  • . The BLM has not publicly outlined when or if the June sale will be rescheduled, though about 103 deferred parcels from the June sale will be made available in the December sale. The third quarter sale scheduled for Sept. 22 is still on the books and has not been canceled or postponed.
  • In an effort to balance the need to protect sensitive raptors and the advancement of energy development, EOG has been working with a Wyoming-based wildlife consulting firm for the past five years to learn more about the nesting and migration patterns of the iconic Ferruginous Hawks swooping throughout the basin.

WIND & SOLAR

  • Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky program entered its 20th year. The voluntary program gives the utility’s customers a chance to chip in a couple bucks each month to equip community-based organizations around the state with solar, micro-hydro and wind systems.
  • Wyoming lawmakers once again resurrected a discussion over an increased electricity taxlevied on companies generating renewable energy in the state last week. The tax could provide a much-needed alternate revenue source for the cash-hungry state, proponents say. But the renewed possibility of an electricity tax could spell trouble for the state’s utility companies and independent power producers. Many say the tax would hike costs for consumers and deter renewable energy investment in Wyoming.
  • The state’s largest utility, PacifiCorp, announced it is moving ahead with its plan to build a $2 billion transmission line through Wyoming to transport electricity to customers across the West. The utility has filed for regulatory approval with the Wyoming Public Service Commission to start construction on the next part of the project.

CONSERVATION & LAND

  • Wyoming’s governor announced this week he had reinvigorated a new stewardship agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to clarify the role of the state and federal government in managing Wyoming’s abundant forests and grasslands.
  • The agreement lays out a general plan for the state and federal leaders to share resources and increase coordination on projects to protect the state’s natural resources from wildfires, invasive species, watershed degradation and other threats. The agreement acts as an umbrella to improve collaboration between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service and the state, given projects often cross man-made boundaries. But some environmental groups worry the agreement could open the doors to more commercial logging within national forests or limit meaningful opportunities for public input.
  • Meanwhile, the Billings Gazette reports the Custer Gallatin National Forest has proposed a sweeping logging and vegetation treatment project spread on 39,900 acres west of the Yellowstone National Park’s border.

Last week in numbers

Friday oil prices:

  • West Texas Intermediate (WTI) $42.97, Brent (ICE) $45.05
  • Wyoming General Sour $34.25, Wyoming General Sweet $35.50

Friday natural gas:

  • Henry Hub $2.66

Baker Hughes rig count:

  • U.S 254 (-0), Wyoming 1 (-0)

Quote of the week

“These are very difficult cuts to make and there are more coming. Each is agonizing.”

— Gov. Mark Gordon said, referencing the $250 million in state budget cuts announced last week.

Follow the latest on Wyoming’s energy industry @camillereports

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Energy and Natural Resources Reporter

Camille Erickson covers the state's energy industries. She received her master's degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Before moving to Casper in 2019, she reported on business and labor in Minneapolis, Chicago and Washington.

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