Senate Panel Considers Banning Some Foreign Property Ownership In Wyoming

Military Affairs Commission on Monday considered legislation that would ban some foreign ownership of Wyoming property considered critical infrastructure for the state and U.S.

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Pat Maio

February 20, 20243 min read

Sweetwater County trona mine 7 21 23

A Wyoming Senate panel is considering a proposal to ban foreign ownership of critical infrastructure after a Cheyenne-based blockchain company got tangled up in a messy lawsuit last year filed against Chinese companies that allegedly pushed it out of business.

Some trona miners may be biting their collective nails in the Sweetwater County area that are largely owned by foreign entities.

Sean Murphy, who represents Bison Blockchain, told the Senate Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee on Monday that he supports the proposal, Senate File 102, because of how his company was mistreated.

“We were the largest bitcoin mining operation in Wyoming until we weren’t,” said Murphy of the bill sponsored by Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle.

Murphy claimed in his $22 million lawsuit against a conglomerate of Chinese companies that they exploited Wyoming’s business and land-use laws, and took advantage of state regulations to push locals out of business.

A related bill sponsored by Steinmetz, Senate Joint Resolution 2, would prohibit foreign adversaries from property ownership in Wyoming.

Trona Miners A ‘Little Concerned’

But it’s the ban of foreign property ownership of critical infrastructure causing heartburn.

Dave Divis, assessor for Sweetwater County who spoke on behalf of the Wyoming County Assessors Association, and which is the trade group whose members assess taxes on the owners of land in the state, said he’s a “little concerned” by the proposal.

This is because trona mining operations generate “a tremendous amount of revenue in our county,” and it might be difficult to determine the ripple effect of taxes paid by homeowners and sales taxes collected.

One trona operation “is owned by a Belgian company, one is owned by an Indian company, and Turkey is a big player in the trona patch,” he said.

The bill seems aimed at future acquisitions of mining operations than the current owners that might become grandfathered, Divis said.

Expanding

Two trona projects in Sweetwater County have been proposed since last fall. “Those companies, if they haven’t already acquired that land, they will be shortly,” Divis said.

Pacific Soda, a joint venture between Turkish-based Sisecam and Ciner, is going through the permitting process to mine trona in southwestern Wyoming and produce 6 million tons of soda ash a year, more than double Sisecam’s current production level.

And in October, WE Soda Ltd., a unit of British-based Ciner Resources, announced plans to build a new soda ash production project southwest of Green River (also known as Project West) that has potential to produce 3 million tons to start.

Other trona miners in the region include Genesis Alkali of Green River (with headquarters in Pennsylvania), Solvay (French and Belgian) and Tata (Indian).

State Sen. Brian Boner of Douglas, and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said it was unlikely the trona industry would be affected by “foreign adversaries” ownership of land in Wyoming because of references in the bill to “designated adversaries” like Cuba, China, Iran, North Korea and Russia.

“Last time I checked, Turkey wasn’t on there,” Boner said.

The companion proposal bans foreign property ownership of “critical infrastructure” within a 10-mile zone adjacent to military installations, such as F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, which is one of three strategic missile bases in the United States.

Pat Maio can be reached at pat@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Pat Maio

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Pat Maio is a veteran journalist who covers energy for Cowboy State Daily.