By its nature, Wyoming often finds its economy at the mercy of acts far beyond its control and thousands of miles away.
War breaks out in the Middle East, driving up prices and boosting revenues. New pipelines can come online abroad, or a state shuts down coal exports, driving down prices or imperiling much-needed markets overseas. Sen. John Barrasso seems cognizant of this reality, and how the geopolitical implications of power and control can have profound effects on the state’s economy.
On Capitol Hill this past month, Wyoming’s junior senator has found himself at the center of a multi-front, international battle for energy dominance that has pitted the United States in a veritable war with traditional adversaries like Russia and China. Not by land, sea or air – but in the world’s natural resource markets.
In Europe, Germany – an American ally – has found itself in an energy crisis, and is looking to draw on a supply of oil from nearby Russia, which has substantial reserves and a pipeline under threat running through the Ukraine, where political tensions are high. Meanwhile, countries like Russia and China have been ramping up their production of uranium, undercutting the United States and friendly countries like Canada and Australia while, simultaneously, gathering more and more countries under their wing.
American leadership says both events create heightened risks to international security. If Germany – which has had significant domestic problems around its energy supply — increases its reliance on Russian oil, national leaders fear the country puts itself at greater susceptibility to be manipulated by Russia, a fear duplicated with concerns of American adversaries taking on a more dominant role in the world’s uranium markets.
“Energy is an instrument of power,” Barrasso told the Star-Tribune in an interview last week. “And right now, it is being used as a geopolitical weapon.”
Barrasso has taken steps to stave off these concerns. Earlier this month, Barrasso introduced a piece of legislation called the “ESCAPE Act,” mandating sanctions on the Nord Stream II pipeline that would carry natural gas from Russia to Germany, along with other Russian energy export pipelines. If it’s effective, Barrasso hopes Germany’s needs could be addressed through exports from countries like the United States which — though admittedly less reliable — leave Germany less prone to manipulation by Russia.
“Putin has three basic weapons,” said Barrasso. “He has energy, he has the military and he has cyber. That’s it. He uses energy as a weapon. He may promise a reliable supply and he may promise a cheap price, but I say ‘do not trust him.’”
In the past week, the United States Department of Commerce forwarded a list of recommendations to President Donald Trump intended to increase domestic production of uranium, of which Wyoming has significant reserves of.
If prospects improve for American oil and American uranium as a result of these two bills, the Cowboy State could experience significant benefits, a fact not lost on Wyoming’s chief executive, Gov. Mark Gordon.
“I think you don’t have to look very far back in history to see what Russia can do with its supply of gas,” Gordon said in a conference call with reporters late last week. “If you look at the Ukraine and Germany’s experiences with Russian supply, I think it’s important we continue to build our export market for international gas. If I were a country looking to do business, I would prefer to do it with the United States.”
The Week Ahead
Thursday: Independence Day. Gov. Gordon attends Cody Stampede Parade.
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In a conference call with reporters last week, Gov. Mark Gordon said that a visit to Wyoming by the president of Taiwan could still potentially occur after recent concerns that the visit with the state’s closest trade partner might not happen.
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“The president of Taiwan is quite anxious to come to Wyoming,” Gordon said. “And we’ve been working with the State Department and others to make sure that transition goes as well as possible. I think we’re reaching a very positive point in those conversations.”
The visit seemed to be in jeopardy in early June, after a meeting with Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr – who helped to initiate talks around a visit – imploded, resulting in the governor using an obscene word toward the mayor of the state’s capital city.
However Orr – who was in Gillette last week to lobby state lawmakers meeting there – said the pair’s relationship has improved in the weeks since that episode, and she seemed optimistic about the prospects for a visit in a short conversation Friday morning.
“I think she’s really coming,” Orr said.
George leaves state GOP post, moves to Nebraska: Wyoming Republicans are looking for someone to represent the state party at the national level after local resident Richard George resigned to take a job out of state. (via The Powell Tribune)
Campbell County Republicans approve plan to review voting records of officials: The Campbell County Republican Party Central Committee passed two resolutions Monday night designed to act as a litmus test for Republican views and to give the party more power in filling vacancies. (via The Gillette News-Record)
A mystery group has been pushing to stop gambling regulation in Wyoming: A mysterious group with dubious ties to Wyoming has been lobbying state lawmakers in an apparent attempt to derail talks about regulating gambling in Wyoming. (via Trib.com)
Despite the presence of several Western politicians on the stage for last week’s Democratic Presidential Debates, western issues were largely absent from the subject matter, with the moderators much more interested in seeing the 20 candidates litigate boilerplate progressive issues. Kamala Harris and Eric Swalwell did not talk about wildfire mitigation. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet had little to say on state-level wildlife regulations. Even Elizabeth Warren – the first candidate with a public lands plan – had little to say about it.
However, the West did get its moment in one respect – climate change – and Hickenlooper’s stance that natural gas can be part of the “climate solution,” a stance wholly rejected by the former Colorado governor’s East Coast colleagues.
Western politicians – many of whom come from oil-producing states – can come together on this issue no matter their party. A similar perspective is shared by almost everyone in the Republican party, as well as Rocky Mountain Democrats like Steve Bullock, and could be used as a compelling argument that a Western politician could build the types of bipartisan coalitions on climate change that are often hard to come by in Washington today.
However, as an article in the Denver alt-weekly Westword will note, Hickenlooper did mislead on the stage. Though he touted methane regulations on the oil and gas industry he passed as governor, the impacts of those regulations are a “drop in the bucket” when it comes to regulating emissions.
State seeks new ways to reduce crimes against Native Women: It’s been seven years now since Dawn Day was found floating in a Fremont County lake by a passing boat. But her dad Gregory Day and her aunt Madeleine Day still miss her laughter. (via Wyoming Public Media)
What’s after Cody Labs? The news that Cody Labs is shutting down and terminating 80 positions, which have an average annual salary of $70,000 each, was an unfortunate development for a public-private partnership that once held great promise. (via The Powell Tribune)
Wildlife corridor talks begin: Residents and industry representatives came to Rock Springs offering their thoughts to a committee assigned to develop recommendations on big game migration corridors in Wyoming. (via The Rock Springs Rocket-Miner)
Eye On Washington
Sen. John Barrasso scored a significant legislative victory, managing to pass a landmark carbon capture bill through the Senate with bipartisan support. He also sponsored a bill to bill to amend the FAST Act, which would allow states to include information on small business concerns owned and controlled by veterans under the disadvantaged business enterprises program of the Department of Transportation.
Sen. Mike Enzi sponsored a resolution with Barrasso designating July 27, 2019, as “National Day of the American Cowboy.” He also continued his hearings on the national budget, focusing intently on the looming insolvency of the Social Security system, which is expected to create a significant financial crisis within the United States over the next decade.
Rep. Liz Cheney co-sponsored several bills while continuing an ongoing public feud with freshman Democratic lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio Cortez over the use of the phrase “concentration camps” to describe migrant detention facilities at the U.S. border, many of which keep detainees in deplorable conditions.