On Jan. 26th I received notification of Gov. Mark Gordon’s plan to conduct a public tour and listening session on his draft Executive Order (EO) for migration corridor management. The tour was set for Saturday. This is faster than a Congressional impeachment hearing. I barely had time from my day job to write a comment letter to this paper, let alone rearrange my schedule to attend these sessions.
I feel the EO is unnecessary and presents more burdensome regulations to the oil and gas industry. The main impacts to migrating animals, roadways and residential development are only causally addressed and without actual reductions or denials. This represents a double standard that harms oil and gas. I am not a stranger to this issue having lived and worked in Wyoming for 40 years, observed some of the first collaring efforts back in 2005 and even gave a presentation to the Migration Advisory Committee assembled by the governor at their first meeting in Rock Springs on June 26 (only six months ago).
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The governor’s executive order begins with the phrase “Wyoming has the longest intact mule deer and pronghorn antelope migration corridor in the world.” I wonder how this happened despite oil and gas development occurring in the state since 1884? That is 134 years! We must be doing something right. When the sage grouse EO was put in place, the sage grouse was considered threatened by the Endangered Species Act. However, despite being actively involved in the governor’s advisory group meetings, I have yet to see any compelling evidence that mule deer are reaching such status, let alone that oil and gas development is the leading cause. Many legislators have echoed these sentiments at various committee meetings asking, “What is the problem we are trying to fix?”
My biggest concern is that as state bureaucracy and regulations grow, we continue to send a message to companies that Wyoming is not open for business. Especially so for the businesses that pay the vast majority of taxes to run our state and local governments and most importantly, our schools. In 2018, oil and gas pumped in over $1.3 billion in taxes to the state. According to the Wyoming Taxpayers Association, a family of three pays $3,070/year in taxes and receives over $27,600/year in tax supported services. This does not come as a result of taxing the retail and service sectors. This luxury is a direct result of mineral taxes. Annually, the oil and gas industry contributes over $5 billion in gross domestic product to our economy. Agriculture and tourism combined account for less than $2.5 billion. Over 40 years an individual only pays half of what it costs to educate one child K-12. Increasing state government and regulations on the state’s largest taxpayer is not a good idea.
A great example of the double standard is occurring just east of my house in Casper. The city of Casper is considering rezoning an area for residential development. While I doubt any mule deer have been collared in this area, the dead bodies I have observed along Wyoming Boulevard indicate this area is frequented by many mule deer – at least until they are killed. However, I don’t expect to see any letter from Game and Fish asking to reduce the speed limits on Wyoming Boulevard or denying building permits for the new residential development.
I recommend the governor reevaluate the draft executive order. This EO does nothing but discourage mineral development in our state, and unless advocates of the EO pledge to start paying nine times more in personal taxes, we need to take more time to address exactly what problem we are trying to solve, and further, what the root cause of the problem actually is.
Steve Degenfelder is a certified professional landman who has lived in Wyoming for the past 40 years. He and his wife have raised three children who enjoyed Wyoming’s public schools K-16.