Updates from Representative Sommers
by Albert Sommers, House District #20
June 3, 2015
June 2, 2015
Hello Sublette County, on May 28 and 29, I attended a Joint Minerals, Business, and Economic development meeting in Casper. During the two days, we heard testimony on the President’s Clean Power Plan, and the future of coal in Wyoming. We also heard testimony on carbon capture and sequestration, the state of oil and gas in Wyoming, plugging of abandoned wells, and flaring. The University of Wyoming talked about its engineering program, and the Department of Environmental Quality spoke on landfill issues.
The discussion on President Obama’s Clean Power Plan was insightful; its impacts to Wyoming could be substantial. We heard a report on the Clean Power Plan from Ray Gifford, an attorney from Denver who works for utility companies. His testimony alone would not have swayed me, but Wyoming’s Director of DEQ confirmed most of what Gifford said in a subsequent roundtable discussion.
The Clean Power Plan is looking to reduce the CO2 output in the nation’s electricity generating fleet 30% by 2030, and will utilize 4 building blocks. Block #1 asks states to increase efficiency of coal fired power plants by 6%.Block #2 asks gas powered plants to double their use, and increase their capacity from 40% to 70%.Block #3 requires a regionally averaged renewable energy standard, which would allow states to form partnerships to meet the standards. Block #4 asks states to improve "demand efficiency," that is, power consumers’ efficiency, by 1.5% per year.
Wyoming must submit a plan to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) no later than June of 2016, and we must reduce our power plant emissions substantially. EPA’s 2020-2029 mandate is a reduction from 2,115 to 1,808 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour, which is a reduction of 14.5%.The final EPA mandate, by 2030, will be a 19% reduction in CO2 per megawatt hour from a 2012 baseline.
Wyoming’s current power generation mix is 88% coal, 9% wind, and 3% natural gas and hydro. Wyoming produces 12.2% of all BTUs produced in the US. We provide 40% of all coal burned in the US, and we supply coal to 32 states.
In order to meet the EPA’s interim 2020 goal, Wyoming would have to eliminate 4,175 of its current 6,748 megawatts (MW) of coal fired generation. For example, that could require the Dave Johnston, Naughton, Jim Bridger, and Wyodak Plants all to close. Wyoming’s compliance with this EPA rule could result in a 44% increase in residential power and gas costs, depending upon where the price of natural gas goes. Compliance would also increase industrial power rates in Wyoming by 58%.
There are real questions whether EPA has the authority to regulate coal fired plants in this way. Several states are likely to litigate the Clean Power Plan, but the timelines will require compliance before any litigation can be finished.EPA does not have to win a lawsuit, because states will be forced to comply before they can question the legality of the rule.
Yet, even if all states manage to meet the standards, the result will have a minimal effect on global or US CO2 emissions. Below is a chart which depicts the minimal change this rule will have on overall emissions. There is no question we should work toward improving our emission outputs, but the Clean Power Plan as currently written seems to not be the answer. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 1, 2015
Hello Sublette County, the Legislature has begun its interim committee work, and the last two weeks I have attended committee meetings. This interim I am a member of the Joint Education Committee, the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration, the Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability, and the Joint Minerals, Business, and Economic Development Committee. On May 21and 22, I attended the first public meeting of the School Finance Recalibration Committee.
K12 education in Wyoming is funded through a complex model, which equalizes funding among school districts across the state. This is accomplished by developing a "basket of goods" to educate each child, and then applying regional and inflationary cost adjustments. Every five years the legislature must recalibrate this funding model to ensure we are adequately providing districts with the required financial resources. We hire a consultant to do this examination, and they look at everything from class size and teacher pay to number of janitors. The Recalibration Committee then takes the consultant’s information and creates an updated funding model. The committee usually adjusts the consultant’s model based upon comments from the public and school districts. This recalibration system was created by several Wyoming Supreme Court decisions, called the Campbell decisions, and is based upon Wyoming’s constitutional requirement that education must be "adequate to the proper instruction of all youth of the state." Sublette County school districts are recapture districts, which means our tax revenues exceed what the funding model requires, and thus our districts must pay money back to the state to support poorer districts.
At our first meeting, the committee decided which components of the model to examine in more detail for recalibration. Those components will include class size, teacher and administrator salaries, technology expense, tutors, and many other items. Districts are funded based upon a cost for each component of the model, but each district is given a block grant, which gives districts the ability to educate children based upon local conditions and constituent priorities. It is essential that Wyoming retain this block grant approach, which allows local control of priorities.
We will examine a few new items during the recalibration process, to see what their costs would be in the funding model. Food service is currently not funded by the state, but is funded by the federal government. We heard testimony that districts were spending a significant amount on food service to make up for a gap left by the federal program. We also heard that the federal government dictates a menu that most kids do not like. We will look at the costs of food service to see if the state should consider adding it to the basket of goods. School security has been studied by experts in Wyoming for several years, and recalibration will look at funding School Resource Officers. The Joint Education Committee will also continue its examination of school security, including the tip hotline program, Safe2Tell, which failed to pass the legislature during last session. The Recalibration Committee also decided to look at the cost of funding early childhood education. I have been a big supporter of early childhood education programs, but I believe we need to let local communities decide what best fits their communities. I like the early childhood education grant program we currently are funding, because it is not a mandated program. Early childhood education provides the best bang for our buck in education, but we must also let a child be a child. I hope we can walk that fine line, and provide state support for local early childhood programs.
Recalibration is an intensive effort, and we will have several meetings during this process. Ultimately, the committee will bring a bill to the next session, and all legislators will have a crack at this issue. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at email@example.com.