The Wyoming Legislature continued its saber rattling against the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday, voting in favor of a bill that earmarks money to fight the agency in court and passing a joint resolution that recognizes the state’s ability to keep its own emissions standards rather than use federal ones.
The state and EPA are at odds over a number of regulatory issues affecting Wyoming’s ability to monitor air quality, emissions and water. Lawmakers hope the bill and the resolution will be a means for the Legislature to expand the state’s ability to fight the agency on hotbed issues and maintain primacy in creating its own regulating standards.
During their discussion about Senate File 75, lawmakers in the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee lampooned the EPA as a federal bully and slammed the EPA’s potential economic threat to Wyoming. The legislation would earmark at least $2.2 million to battle EPA rulings on greenhouse gases, regional haze, the boundary of the Wind River Indian Reservation and new or existing coal-fired power plants.
The bill passed the committee by a 7-1 vote after unanimously clearing the Senate on Thursday. An identical version of the legislation failed to make it out of the House last week.
Advocates for coal and the power plants showed strong support for the legislation.
“I think this gives the state one more arrow in the quiver, and it would take a little pressure off our Department of Environmental Quality to challenge some of these rules,” said Marion Loomis, director of the Wyoming Mining Association.
The law would allow counties more access to funds from the state’s federal natural resource policy account, a kitty the Legislature created in 1999 for local and state governments to litigate against federal air, land, water, mineral and property rights policy.
Gov. Matt Mead requested a $1 million appropriation for the account in his annual budget request. The Joint Appropriations Committee added $1.2 million to the governor’s request.
Only $300,000 was in the account as of Jan. 16.
Lawmakers didn’t outline an exact dollar figure in the bill, but the legislation mentions the “potential for an indeterminable expenditure” that could be “nominal or significant.”
If money runs out during the course of the year, there will be a push to refill the account, said Sen. Eli Bebout, co-sponsor of the legislation and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“If we get into litigation and need more money, I will be the first one to step up and say, 'Let’s do it,'” he said.
The state is currently involved in at least five lawsuits against the EPA. More are likely to come.
On Feb. 14, the state filed a petition in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to fight the EPA ruling that Riverton is part of the Wind River Indian Reservation. The case is likely to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state has also intervened in three cases involving emission regulations and the EPA. It's paired with Texas to take on the agency as well.
In December, the state filed an intent to sue the EPA over provisions in the Clean Air Act.
This summer the EPA will make mandates in regard to emissions from existing power plants. It’s unclear whether the state will take action against the agency, but the bill could put the state in a stronger position to fight in court.
Before drafting the bill, lawmakers sent the EPA three letters in hopes of hashing out a deal to resolve some of the issues that have Wyoming at odds with the agency. The EPA declined the offers to carve out a deal, Bebout said.
“We’re having a heck of a time getting them to communicate with us,” he said.
Rep. Jim Byrd, R-Cheyenne, was against the bill, saying he wasn’t sure if “throwing rocks at the bully” would solve the state’s problems.
Building partnerships with other states, he said, may be a more practical way to tackle the EPA rules.
“We’re doing all the heavy lifting for other states,” he said. “We need to reach out and build coalitions.”
The EPA’s opponents on the committee consider the bill a last-ditch effort to combat what they are calling an overreaching agency.
Rep. Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis, said the bill was one of the only remaining options.
“If a bully continues to punch someone in the nose, it’s probably best to assume that dialogue has already broken down,” he said.
The resolution, which passed unanimously, asks Congress to require the EPA to respect the primacy of Wyoming in developing guidelines to regulate carbon emissions. If the resolution passes, it will be sent to President Obama, the EPA, the Wyoming congressional delegation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House John Boehner.
“The effort is not to tell the EPA they can’t write rules,” Loomis said. “It’s to recognize the practicality of writing rules and to give the states flexibility … to draft rules that apply to the state."
Both the bill and the resolution will head to the House floor for debate.