Allocations set for initial ARPA funds

WYOMING – Gov. Mark Gordon recently announced the state’s proposals for the use of initial American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Gordon recommended dedicating nearly $500 million in funds to a range of different projects, according to a letter he wrote to the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee.

These recommendations pertain to just the first round of payouts. Wyoming will receive over $1 billion directly from the American Rescue Plan Act, the infrastructure bill that came from President Joe Biden and his administration. Gordon recommended additional funds be set aside for savings or future ideas.

In total, hundreds of ideas were pitched for the funds, totaling $4 billion in projects that were brought forward for consideration. Some of those projects were brought forth with funding in mind from other sources, including the recently passed infrastructure bill.

Wyoming received $534 million in ARPA funds in May. A second payment of $534 million, among the state’s allotment of $1.68 billion, will be made next year.

“This winnowing of proposals was not done casually, but thoughtfully in accordance with the principles outlined at the start of this endeavor to preserve opportunity and foster long-term resilience,” Gordon wrote in his letter. “In many cases we reduced the initial request to an amount that could be used as a preliminary investment, as I believe it prudent to analyze the effectiveness of a program or proposal before committing additional dollars.”

Gov. Gordon’s proposals included:

  • $100 million placed in the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account earmarked to match private sector or federal funds for large-scale energy projects. That would include carbon capture on a coal-fired power plant, a hydrogen hub, carbon sequestration and nuclear power projects.
  • $55 million for the next phase of the Wyoming Innovation Partnership to attempt to expand the state’s workforce and economy.
  • $75 million to the Wyoming Wildlife Trust Fund. That would fully fund the trust and save some general funds for the future.
  • $50 million for supporting local government projects.
  • $40 million towards grants that would enhance outdoor recreation in Wyoming. That would be through helping communities pursue construction of new products and infrastructure.
  • $30 million to economic development for support in mining, agriculture and entrepreneurship.
  • $10 million towards the Cultural Trust Fund to promote arts and historic preservation throughout Wyoming.
  • $10 million would match federal funds for wildlife crossing projects on state highways.
  • $10 million for expansion of Health and Human Services Staffing Stabilization efforts. That would include providers caring for vulnerable and at-risk populations.

These ideas came after the governor created a strike team meant to create 10 Goal Areas.

Gov. Gordon’s office welcomes public feedback on these proposals. Comments can be shared on the governor’s website.

Gordon’s announcement of preferred proposals came the same week the Biden administration’s “Build Back Better Regional Challenge” finalists were announced – which snubbed all pitched Wyoming projects.

This brought harsh criticism from Gov. Gordon, as well as Wyoming’s Washington delegation.

The Economic Development Administration named 60 finalists – 12 of them from coal communities – and dedicated $100 million in funds to its established Coal Communities Commitment portion of the American Rescue Plan Act. Not only was Wyoming – the country’s largest coal-producer by far – left out, but so were Montana and North Dakota.

“I am furious that this administration has turned its back on the number-one coal-producing state, but given their track record to date, I am not surprised. Wyoming coal communities were absolutely ignored in our efforts to deploy new technologies,” Gov. Gordon said. “These decisions are clearly political and not based on merit. It is absolutely disingenuous to hear President Biden’s bureaucrats say they are concerned about our state when they slam the door on these communities’ futures. This is truly D.C. at its worst.”

Wyoming submitted three different grant applications to the Build Back Better Regional Challenge. Those came from the State of Wyoming, University of Wyoming and Campbell County.

Gov. Gordon was joined in the outrage by senior Sen. John Barrasso. A ranking member of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Barrasso has positioned himself as a champion for Wyoming’s energy sector. He said it was absurd the grant program failed to include any Wyoming community, despite its status as the highest-producing coal state.

“President Biden and the Economic Development Administration owe the people of Wyoming an explanation,” Sen. Barrasso said. “The blanket rejection of all Wyoming applications is a slap in the face to our coal communities, energy workers and their families. Either this was a terrible oversight that can be quickly corrected, or it was another direct, intentional assault on Wyoming’s livelihood by an out of-touch administration. Wyoming deserves better and we deserve answers.”

Junior Sen. Cynthia Lummis joined in by saying it was yet another example of what she called a “tone-deaf” approach taken by the Biden administration.

“Campbell County, quite literally the coal capital of the nation, was not even considered among the finalists,” she said. “This administration talked a big game about how they would transition communities away from coal, but when they had the opportunity, they left these communities out in the cold.”

Rep. Liz Cheney said the snub was proof of the Biden administration’s target on the state’s coal industry. She said it “strains credulity” to believe the adminsitration’s project, which aimed to help coal communities, would neglect to include the country’s largest coal producer.

“I join Gov. Gordon and our congressional delegation in expressing my profound disappointment that the administration would deliberately prevent Wyoming coal producers from accessing these grants, and this decision further underscores why I voted against the initial $1.9 trillion bill that created this program, because it’s clear that the funding in the legislation would not benefit the people of Wyoming,” Cheney said.