Wyoming Legislature updates – September 4 & 5, 2016
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
September 6, 2016
September 5, 2016 update:
Hello Sublette County, on September 2 in Cheyenne, I attended a subcommittee meeting of the Joint Corporations Committee. This subcommittee was established to provide recommendations to the Joint Corporations Committee regarding municipal elections. The Joint Corporations Committee will meet in Saratoga on September 15-16. The subcommittee is continuing to discuss an idea I presented at the end of the last legislative session. The issue centers on granting municipalities the ability to allow some property owners within their borders to vote, even if they were not residents. A town in Colorado allows this very thing, and the charter ordinance it passed was upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court. In my proposal, property owners would have to be Wyoming residents and meet all Wyoming voter requirements. Towns could apply this only through a charter ordinance, which may require a 2/3 vote of the governing body. One member of the subcommittee was concerned that this practice would constitute a poll tax, while I view it as a home rule decision that could aid business recruitment and eliminate taxation without representation. The Wyoming Association of Municipalities also had concerns with this legislation, and in the end the subcommittee, on 2-1 vote, chose not to bring my bill forward to the full committee. It did move forward two bills dealing with extra-territorial authority of municipalities, including a bill that would give municipal voting rights to those citizens residing in county jurisdictions whose property is affected by municipal regulations or decisions. These bills will not address the concerns raised in my bill.
These bills will be hotly debated at the September 15-16 meeting. The issue of a Wyoming Presidential Primary will also be debated at this meeting starting around 1PM on the 15th. I do not serve on this committee, but I will be attending and supporting the concept of a Wyoming Presidential Primary. Many Sublette County residents have encouraged me to support a presidential primary, and the Sublette County Republicans voted to support a primary at their convention this spring. I hope citizens attend this meeting in Saratoga and voice their opinions on these issues. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
September 4, 2016 update
Hello Sublette County, on August 11-12 in Casper, I participated in a meeting of the Joint Minerals, Business, and Economic Development Committee. During this meeting we discussed topics that included idle well bonding, the nuclear industry in Wyoming, air service in Wyoming, use of the State’s plane, banking legislation, and a presentation from Dr. Mark Northam, Director, University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources.
Idle wells are oil and gas wells designated by the Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission after production has ceased for a certain period. The Commission may require additional bonding of idle wells, in order to ensure these idle wells have bonding in place if they become "orphaned wells". During recent years several companies involved in the coalbed methane play have failed, and their wells have become "orphaned wells", with the State of Wyoming left with the responsibility of plugging and abandoning them. We heard testimony from a company that wanted to change Wyoming’s bonding requirements for idle wells, by creating an idle well bond pool, which could be drawn from if companies failed. This company felt the bonding requirements were too stringent, and that the remaining resource in many of these coalbed methane fields could by extracted by smaller companies if they did not have to tie up extensive resources in idle well bonds. I believe the committee was sympathetic to the plight of small operators, but we were unwilling to move a proposal forward that might jeopardize an idle well bonding process that seems to finally be working.
In May the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) attended a Department of Energy (DOE) meeting in Denver. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss DOE's strategy to manage its nuclear waste. DOE is considering a consent-based siting approach for finding both interim and permanent storage sites for its spent nuclear fuel. Currently, there are 140,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, all stored on-site at nuclear power plants. Additionally, there are 90 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste generated by reprocessing for nuclear defense activities being stored at DOE's National Laboratory Sites. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 set forth the nation's nuclear waste management strategy by giving DOE the ability to establish a geological repository for the waste and to begin taking this waste by 1998. DOE has failed to meet objectives, which has resulted in nuclear utilities successfully suing the DOE to the tune of twenty billion dollars. WDEQ is staying abreast of this issue, as Wyoming currently has statutes that address how a nuclear waste storage facility could be developed in Wyoming. These statutes are out of date, and the committee voted to update the statutes to current conditions. I voted against this motion, because we have not seen what the Feds will come up with. I think an update is premature at this point, but ultimately will be necessary. We heard extensive testimony from the environmental community, who was concerned about any future temporary storage of nuclear waste in Wyoming. Our nation has stuck its head in the sand for too many years on the issue of nuclear waste storage, and we need to pull together to solve this issue, just like other nations have done. There is no perfect form of energy production in this world, and that includes wind and solar. We as a nation need a diverse portfolio of energy production, and we need to find ways to make all forms of energy cleaner, safer, more economical and more environmentally friendly. Wyoming is fortunate in that we have the natural resources for nearly all forms of energy production, and a University with programs to aid energy production, clean energy technologies, and reclamation.
We heard an update on the challenges of maintaining air service in communities around the state, even though federal and state programs exist to aid that effort. Air service and consistent, reliable high speed internet are essential to the future of this state.
Albert Forkner, State Banking Commissioner, Wyoming Division of Banking, brought us legislation to consider sponsoring next session. One bill was simply a cleanup bill, except that it transferred the power of setting banking fees from the legislature to the banking commissioner. I was concerned about controlling the growth of the department with that authority shifting, but the banker’s association supported the legislation, so I did. The second bill updates the authority of the banking commissioner in today’s banking world. Banks farm out a lot of the workload they previously did in-house, but under old statutes the banking commissioner had no authority to ensure these large banking service providers were following Wyoming law. The bill he brought forward was developed by a national association of banking commissioners. Even so, the bill drew concern from large internet providers, who do not want to be caught up in the web of oversight. Commissioner Forkner will consider those concerns, and bring further recommendations to the committee’s next meeting.
Dr. Mark Northam, Director of the School of Energy Resources at UW, presented a draft report on the future of Wyoming Coal, a report requested by the Legislature. The report has five conclusions:
1.) Policy and regulatory pressure aimed at reducing the use of coal is unlikely to reduce
2.) Erosion of demand for coal is likely to abate in the near-term, but will resume in reaction to implementation of new policy; it is likely to reach a steady, albeit reduced, state over the long term
3.) The science of global warming is immaterial to markets and governments; they have already decided in favor of climate change
4.) Investment in new technology should focus on CO2 utilization and efficiency gains in the conversion of coal to energy to protect existing markets, and conversion of coal to no-fuel products to create new markets
5.) Wyoming should capitalize on its leading position in CO2 storage technology and legislation to attract new investment in capturing funding for research, demonstration, and implementation
At our next meeting, October 10-11 in Rock Springs, we will discuss economic development in Wyoming. Please contact me at email@example.com.