Gordon backs bills to help industries

WYOMING — Gov. Mark Gordon threw his weight behind several legislative proposals aimed at supporting Wyoming’s key economic drivers: energy, tourism and agriculture.

In an announcement published Feb. 4, the governor outlined his economic plan to help the trio of industries regain their footing and recover from the recession.

Of the more than 200 bills introduced in the Wyoming Legislature this year, Gordon highlighted roughly half a dozen as particularly important to the state’s economic recovery.

First, Gordon doubled down on promoting an “all above energy” strategy, with particular emphasis on buoying coal, oil, natural gas and other minerals. Demand and production volumes for these products cratered across the board last year, as the nation weathered the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The energy and mining sectors are the major pillars of our economy and they have provided the wherewithal that gives this nation the luxury of looking to new forms of energy,” Gordon said in a statement. “Let me be clear. Our traditional industries will adapt and continue to provide the reliable, affordable and dispatchable power they always have, only better. Our economic recovery will hinge on the health of these industries and their ability to adapt to changing market demands. Wyoming can continue to grow even as our mix of energy supplies evolve.”

To do so, Gordon endorsed a proposed bill that would reduce by half the state’s severance tax levied on oil and gas operators, under certain conditions.

Though oil prices have recovered since falling into the teens last spring, the rig count in Wyoming — a prime indicator of how much new drilling activity is occurring — remains historically low.

However, West Texas Intermediate, a U.S. benchmark for oil, exceeded $55 a barrel on Thursday, a marked improvement from last year.

House Bill 11 has been introduced to the House and referred to a committee focused on mineral development for review.

Opponents of the bill have called it a subsidy for oil and gas operators at a time when the state desperately needs revenue to balance its budget. Gordon’s public backing of Wyoming’s fossil fuel sectors comes in the wake of new executive orders handed down by the Biden administration aimed at combatting the climate crisis and weaning the country off of fossil fuels.

One order particularly roiled Wyoming’s political leaders: a pause on federal leasing for oil and gas development.

Over the past two weeks, Wyoming’s governor has roundly criticized the move as detrimental to Wyoming’s energy economy. The state produces more oil and gas from federal lands and minerals than almost any other state in the country.

In addition, Gordon extended his support on Feb. 4 to a bill that could broaden the involvement of the Wyoming Energy Authority — one of the newest state agencies — in promoting investment in carbon capture technology, trona, rare earth elements and other critical minerals.

“While some are suggesting the early demise of coal — and right now it faces many challenges — we believe that coal coupled with new technologies is an essential part of the solution to reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere,” Gordon said. “Carbon capture and the development of carbon byproducts will be part of Wyoming’s energy future. So too, should be efforts to research extracting the rare earth elements and critical minerals associated with coal that will be needed for the batteries powering the anticipated worldwide build-out of wind and solar power.”

Carbon capture involves the trapping or storing of carbon dioxide emitted during industrial processes, like burning coal.

Gordon also placed a spotlight on bills that could bolster Wyoming’s tourism industry.

Wyoming’s renowned parks attract millions of people to the state each year and catalyze crucial economic activity for surrounding communities. House Bill 58 would give state parks more flexibility to use funds collected through fees for maintenance, administration and other operation costs.

“Our state parks provide world-class experiences and opportunities for tourists and residents alike and saw a statewide increase of roughly 36 percent in visitation last year, a trend that is expected to continue into 2021,” Gordon said. “It’s critical to ensure we continue to properly fund these parks and historic sites, which play a critical role in our state’s economy.”

The governor encouraged state lawmakers to approve bills to help out ranchers, too. That includes House Bill 52, legislation that would up the amount of Wyoming poultry, lamb, pork, beef and bison in school meals, with financial assistance from the Department of Education.

Gordon considered the bill a vital step in combating hunger and supporting agricultural ventures here.

“This is only a part of an ambitious initiative focused on adding value to products across the entire spectrum of agricultural enterprise,” Gordon added. “This effort is essential to grow this key part of our economy.”