Wyoming Legislature update – Sept. 14, 2015
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
September 15, 2015
Hello Sublette County, on August 27 and 28, I attended the Minerals, Business, and Economic Development Committee meeting in Riverton. It was a rare treat to have one of my legislative committees meet so close to home. We heard reports from the Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute, Wyoming Geologic Survey, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, and the Governor’s Office.
The Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute (EORI) is part of the University of Wyoming, and helps the State of Wyoming and its energy producers recover stranded oil in depleted oil reservoirs as rapidly, responsibly, and economically as possible. EORI is the only institution devoted to enhanced oil recovery in Wyoming oil fields. The Enhanced and Improved Oil Recovery Commission, authorized by the Wyoming Legislature during its 2004 session, oversees the EORI and has been charged with establishing a research program at the EORI. In a reorganizational effort, it has been decided by the Commission to move the EORI’s center of operations from Laramie to Casper, in an effort to get the Institute closer to the oil fields and energy producers of Wyoming. We received a report on this reorganizational effort by Rob Hurless of UW and Steve Carpenter, EORI Director.
During the 2014 session, the legislature allocated $252,488 to the Wyoming State Geological Survey to provide a report to the state on the availability in Wyoming of iron deposits, rare earth elements, zeolites, and lithium. All of these minerals have received some renewed interest, and all are important components in a variety of high tech applications. At this meeting we received a report on iron deposits in Wyoming, and the various applications they have today. There are iron deposits in the Wind River, Seminoe, Owl Creek, and Granite Mountains of Wyoming. The largest iron mining effort in Wyoming was at the Atlantic City Iron Mine, with a banded iron formation. There was recent interest in re-opening the Sunrise and Atlantic City mines when the price of iron spiked, but the world’s economy has now shrunk, and so has the interest in these mines. Over 160 million tons of iron is estimated to be at Wyoming’s two historic mines, which constitutes a significant resource.
The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) reported on several issues. We received a report clarifying how the EPA will treat the incidental sequestration of CO2 in enhanced oil recovery wells, and we may have to adjust our statutes. We looked at a bill to further clarify our agreement state status with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on certain aspects of uranium mining. We continued to discuss landfill remediation and cease and transfer programs. The state’s program on cease and transfer provides a substantial percentage of the money to complete these projects, but many small communities in Wyoming do not have the resources to come up with even a 25% match. It is important to encourage small communities to cease landfill operations that are endangering water quality, and to establish transfer stations to larger more environmentally secure landfills. If communities cannot find money to close bad landfills, then the state is likely responsible for cleanup. We will look at legislation to further help small and economically challenged communities find the resources to secure leaking landfills. In June of 2014, President Obama signed into law the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. This law will require some changes to Wyoming’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund statutes, but these are changes which provide more flexibility for the revolving fund, which is a good thing.
We heard from Jeremiah Rieman on the state’s efforts to conserve sage grouse, and that the federal government will decide by late September whether it is warranted or not warranted to place the species on the Endangered Species list. A listing would likely have severe economic repercussions for Wyoming and Sublette County.
The Minerals Committee also had a very interesting presentation from Alan Minier of the Wyoming Public Service Commission regarding President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The final rule appears to have an even greater impact on Wyoming than the draft rule. The Public Service Commission regulates our electric utility providers, and is working to understand the impacts of the Clean Power Plan. The commission has not fully digested the final rule, but they list five basic issues. The design of the rule is less state-centric than the original proposal, and will place a greater burden on utilities. The new rule relies on a prospective market for tradeable clean energy credits, but no such market exists. The EPA fails to address electricity reliability, and leaves it to the state to create a reliable system. State Clean Power targets are driven by anticipated growth in renewable energy from a 2012 base. The EPA has not decided whether the federal implementation plan would be rate-based or mass-based. In 2013, Chairman Minier made a very compelling statement about the federal push to change the current mix of electricity generation in the US. In his written comments to the EPA’s he said, "Perhaps more important, the grid is an engineered system. In Wyoming’s part of the west, the stability of the grid has been engineered over time using, in part, the inertia available to the system from heavy coal-fired turbines. Careful engineering would likewise be required to replace that feature of the present grid. In other words, replacing coal-fired generation is not like putting a car up on a lift and changing out its tires; it is more like replacing a tower of blocks one block at a time without having it collapse." We passed a motion in committee to draft a bill which would require any state plan for compliance with the Clean Power Plan be approved by the Legislature, but it remains to be seen whether we will pass that bill out of committee.
For questions or concerns, Representative Sommers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.