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Eli Bebout: Powder River Basin Resource Council’s Goal is to Kill Minerals Industry

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Guest column by State Sen. Eli Bebout (R-Riverton)

We want to teach our children to think critically and evaluate sources when reading “facts” on the internet or anywhere else. This is a response to the recent opinion piece written by Wayne Lax, a board member of the Powder River Basin Resource Council (PRBRC), published in two Wyoming newspapers.

The Powder River Basin Resource Council is an organization which loudly proclaims that it is a Wyoming grassroots advocacy group, yet most of its resources come from out-of-state organizations with one agenda: to eradicate extractive industries such as coal, oil and natural gas.

I urge readers to review the PRBRC filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

It does have members from Wyoming, and a largely Wyoming-based board, but approximately 95% of its funding comes from these out-of-state organizations:  Western Organization of Resources Councils (WORC), Montana; The New World Foundation, New York; The NEO Philanthropy, Inc., New York; The Bloomberg Family Foundation, New York; The JPB Foundation, New York, and the Proteus Fund, Amherst, Massachusetts.    

The PRBRC and its spokesman Lax see issues in Wyoming through that lens and represents the agenda of these organizations – to kill energy production and jobs in Wyoming.

Those of us in the Legislature are working to preserve and diversify our economy, and support Wyoming jobs in our energy sector, which contributes more than half of Wyoming’s biennial budget.

Meanwhile Michael Bloomberg and George Soros, who fund WORC and PRBRC, are seeking to reduce Wyoming’s mineral industry and its jobs.

As one of the legislators that the PRBRC charges with bias and giving away state resources to the oil and gas industry, let me hold a different lens to some of his statements.

First, Lax’s comment: “Wyomingites have long supported the oil and gas industry” – in fact, a truer statement is that the oil and gas industry has long supported the state of Wyoming through severance and property taxes and jobs.  

Another of the points of PRBRC’s editorial charges the Wyoming legislature with allowing oil and gas companies to “loot money from current and future Wyomingites” as well as dodge financial and regulatory obligations using the pandemic as an excuse.

This is a cruel assertion, given the effects of Covid-19 to our State, the nation, and our citizens, in serious illness, deaths, loss of jobs, and resulting disastrous effects on small businesses.  

Since the coronavirus wasn’t even recognized as a serious threat in Wyoming until mid-March, long after the legislature had adjourned, how could we have even considered something so ridiculous and awful? 

It is true that the Wyoming legislature approved a 2% severance tax reduction for new oil and gas wells, so long as the price of oil is below $50 per barrel for oil and below $2.95 per1,000 cubic feet of gas.

This tax reduction was approved, not to give a bigger break to oil and gas companies, but to encourage more drilling, more production and more jobs in Wyoming during tough times.

The Legislature is not alone in encouraging more activity, even amid this crisis and the financial uncertainty, Wyoming small businesses are offering discounts to oil and gas companies as a good faith effort to keep our economy going.  

In regard to PRBRC’s statement that many bankrupt oil and gas companies are giving golden parachutes to company executives and the Legislature is allowing them to leave obligations to the state unpaid.

Let me remind the PRBRC that the Wyoming Legislature has absolutely no control over how companies manage “exit strategies” and many companies, in an attempt to reduce their payroll and reorganize under bankruptcy filings, give early retirement incentives to employees.

While we think other unpaid expense should have priority, this is a common fiscal strategy to improve the bottom line. In many instances, Wyoming would be ahead if those companies could reduce payroll and reorganize rather than go out of business completely.  

Needless to say, this is a difficult time for all energy companies big and small as the oil and gas sell-off between Russia and OPEC created a huge glut with a resulting precipitous drop in the price of oil, and then the demand also dropped drastically because of the nationwide shutdown and travel restrictions.

All of our oil and gas producers are experiencing a critical decline in prices, profits and cash flow. Had the Wyoming Legislature known what was coming, we might have done more to encourage and stabilize oil and gas production in Wyoming.  

I can’t speak for all legislators, but from my point of view as a legislator, a lifetime resident of Wyoming, and a business person who is part-owner of an oil and gas drilling company, we need to develop our state’s resources responsibly, and with local jobs and our state’s economy top of mind.

Will the PRBRC pay the bill for education, correctional facilities and other state agencies? No.   

Even though they reap hundreds of thousands of dollars from out-of-state organizations every year, they are not taxed on their income, either by the State or our federal government and only mobilize their tax-free income to fight Wyoming jobs.

So, Lax is not considering a tax of any kind on PRBRC, just to be clear. But the PRBRC’s out-of-state funded, job-killing activities can take a toll on Wyoming’s economy and jobs.

Let’s stop the negative assertions about our Wyoming legislature and look for ways all of us can work together as Wyoming citizens to sustain our state’s industries – oil and gas, coal, minerals, agriculture, tourism, ranching, technology, and small businesses – in creative, responsible and productive ways. We are all ears, Mister Lax.

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