Guest Column: Permitting Reform Will Build a Stronger Wyoming

Rep. Bill Henderson writes, "One of the most common complaints I hear from Wyoming business leaders is that the current federal permitting and environmental review processes create massive, unwarranted delays that prevent critical energy and infrastructure projects from moving forward."

CSD Staff

November 16, 20234 min read

Henderson 11 15 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

As the representative for Wyoming’s House District 41, top priorities include eliminating bureaucratic red tape, fostering swift economic growth, bolstering businesses, and ultimately ensuring a thriving Wyoming with good job opportunities for hardworking families.

When our economy is strong, our Wyoming communities are strong. That’s why I’m proud to support investments to build out, upgrade and modernize our infrastructure to help create much-needed competitive jobs, support Wyoming businesses and strengthen our local economies across the state.

 Holding us back is urgently needed permitting reform, particularly at the federal level – Bureau of Land Management (BLM), United States Forest Service, and the National Park Service, among others.

One of the most common complaints I hear from Wyoming business leaders, both as an elected official and as a business development executive, is that the current federal permitting and environmental review processes create massive, unwarranted delays that prevent critical energy and infrastructure projects from moving forward in a timely manner.

To make the most of infrastructure investments here in Wyoming, we need our elected officials in Congress to pass commonsense, bipartisan permitting reform at the national level.

Permitting reform will enable Wyoming to invest in repairing and building new highways, roads, and bridges, which will not only improve the safety and quality of life for our residents but will also help support both intrastate and interstate commerce.

At the same time, these infrastructure projects will create and support good jobs in the construction industry as well as up and down the supply chain. 

With meaningful reform, Wyoming can more readily build out our cable broadband networks, which is especially critical for our many rural communities that currently lack sufficient access to high-speed internet.

The National Telecommunications & Information Agency released the amount each state will receive through the BEAD/Digital Equity Plan – for Wyoming, that is $348 million. 

The priority will be to provide connectivity and service to unserved/underserved areas. Public comment for Initial Proposal Volume II is open now through Nov. 17, 2023, at this link.

These investments are critical to provide rural Wyoming residents and small businesses with new opportunities that will significantly help boost local economies by closing the digital divide.

 Streamlining, fast tracking and simplifying the permitting process will also help secure a stronger, more reliable energy future. The energy infrastructure projects that would be accelerated with permitting reform will help our state boost energy production, transmission, and distribution capabilities, in turn increasing our energy independence, improving reliability, and bringing energy costs down for Wyoming homes and businesses.

 Congress made a bit of progress earlier this year to reform the environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act; however, there is still far too much red tape in this and other permitting processes, over-burdening localities, private developers, and state regulators. The problematic nature of the environmental review process is playing out right now with the concerning BLM’s Resource Management Plan in Sweetwater County. This RMP update is poorly thought out and flawed public policy, which, if implemented will harm Wyoming, especially impacting our quality of life, including capacity to develop, build and prosper.

 Our dysfunctional permitting process continues to add years to project timelines, preventing Wyoming from fully realizing the benefits of energy and infrastructure investments. The permitting process for the TransWest transmission project that originates in southwest Wyoming, for example, took 15 years to complete and will be under construction for another five years.

 Meanwhile, Jonah Energy’s Normally Pressured Lance Project—a 3,500 well gas project in the western part of the state—received approval in 2018 but was held up by a lawsuit filed by three environmental groups. Only last month did a federal judge finally throw out the case after concluding that the plaintiffs’ arguments were baseless. In the interim, Wyoming’s energy capabilities suffered.

We can and must do better to move critical energy and infrastructure projects forward more efficiently—and that is why we urgently need federal permitting reform. Wyoming’s congressional delegation deserves credit for working to move this critical issue forward. For the sake of our state’s energy and economic future, they should continue pushing to get federal permitting reform across the finish line as soon as possible. 

Bill Henderson serves House District 41 in the Wyoming Legislature. He is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, the Wyoming State Employee Compensation Commission and the NCSL’s Communications, Financial Services & Interstate Commerce Committee.

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CSD Staff