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Mark Gordon

Gordon Details Plan for Spending Federal COVID Funds

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon has broken the framework of spending federal coronavirus-related funds into two categories: survive and drive.

Gordon wants to ensure the federal funds are spent in a strategic manner in order to maximize benefits to the state.

“We have the opportunity to use these funds to help shape the Wyoming of the future and make our state an even more desirable place to live, work and visit,” Gordon said. “We have identified some critical areas where we should focus our efforts, and which will maximize the opportunity that we have before us. Since it is our great-grandchildren who will be paying for this government funding, it is that generation that deserves to benefit from it.”

In the “survive” phase, several immediate problems were identified that will be addressed with the remaining CARES Act dollars or other available federal funds, which include funding to address increased needs for mental health and substance abuse services; tax relief for businesses; identifying underserved areas needing improved broadband connectivity; expanding camping at Wyoming State Parks to address overcrowding and increasing employment opportunities in the oil and gas industry through the Energy Rebound program. 

In the “drive” phase, several goals were identified for further study and planning. These included:

  • Strengthen Wyoming’s economy by activating new economic sectors and creating new jobs, as well as identifying ways to add value to Wyoming’s current businesses and core industries.
  • Create better alignment among workforce, economic development, and educational opportunities to achieve balance between available workforce and available employment opportunities.
  • Expand outdoor recreation and enhance wildlife populations.
  • Focused efforts to retain and attract working families and young adults to permanently live and raise families in Wyoming.
  • Promote and enhance Wyoming food supply, distribution, and markets.
  • Identify and complete necessary and beneficial infrastructure projects.

Gordon will continue working with his cabinet, policy staff and the strike team on planning and study efforts for each of the second phase’s goals.

Some areas are so complex and robust that the study/planning period may last well into next year.

In addition to this plan, the governor asked the Wyoming Department of Health to prepare its plan for continued COVID-19 response.

Gordon asked a team of key individuals to develop this strategy and they worked with the governor’s policy team, cabinet, and many stakeholders to develop a plan to best maximize the COVID-19-related federal funds in the near-term, mid-term and long-term.

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Gordon Slams Move To Revise Trump’s Water Rules

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A move to reverse federal water rules put in place by former President Donald Trump is being criticized by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon on Thursday said he was disturbed to learn the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to reverse the Trump administration’s “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” which defined which bodies of water are under federal control and which are under state control.

“It is frustrating and deeply disturbing to see that the agencies are yet again pivoting, without any consultation with the governors, on a very important matter governing the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction,” he said in a statement. “I see no need to revisit the rulemaking and am happy with where the rule currently stands.”

The Trump administration in 2020 approved the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” which was designed to provide protection from pollution for the nation’s waters while allowing economic growth.

The rule was seen as a way to solve confusion over whether certain waters, such as wetlands, were subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act.

On Wednesday, the EPA announced it would work with the Corps of Engineers to revise the definitions again to provide needed protection to the country’s water.

The EPA said the old rule was leading to “significant environmental degradation” and added it would seek “input from a wide array of stakeholders” to develop rules to better protect the nation’s waters.

Jaime Pinkham, acting secretary of the Army for Civil Works, said the Navigable Waters Protection Rule has resulted in a drop in the amount of water to be afforded federal protection by 25 percentage points.

But Gordon said the rule changes are being proposed without the input of the states, who are also responsible for water quality.

“I also want to remind the agencies that states are co-regulators of our waters,” he said. “The EPA and the Corps should tap into our expertise and approach us cooperatively as the agency continues its review.”

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Gordon Relaunching Program To Encourage Oil, Gas Projects In Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is dedicating up to $12 million in federal CARES Act funds to re-launch the Energy Rebound Program, which is designed to get more people working in the energy industry.

In 2020, the program provided capital for specified oil and gas projects, including drilled but uncompleted ventures, the replacement of equipment to lengthen the life of wells and the reclamation of oil and gas wells through the plugging and abandonment process.

“The Energy Rebound Program successfully provided opportunities for oil and gas industry employees who lost jobs when drilling ceased last year,” Gordon said. “This program will continue to provide economic benefits to this important industry, their workforce and the entire state of Wyoming.”

Wyoming’s oil and gas industry is lagging due to external market factors, according to the governor’s office.

Currently, there are nine drilling rigs operating in Wyoming, down from more than 30 running in February 2020.

The program again target projects that bring immediate economic benefits, including job growth and revenue, along with the environmental benefits of plugging and reclaiming oil and gas wells that are no longer in use or near the end of their useful life.

“As energy demand continues to increase, private-land production states have seen a quicker rebound, one that has yet to reach Wyoming’s federally-owned resources. Given the success of the inaugural Energy Rebound Program, a jobs program at its core, Gov. Gordon’s decision to initiate a second round makes perfect sense,” said Pete Obermueller, President of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. “In 2020, despite a quick turnaround over the holidays, the men and women of the oil and gas industry stepped up, utilizing more than 100 service companies from 14 Wyoming towns to complete their work, supporting thousands of local jobs and kickstarting more than $150 million in new production.”

Last year, the oil and gas industry had just six weeks to identify and complete projects. This time, the projects will need to be completed by the end of the year.

There will be a cap of $500,000 for each approved project.

There will be a cap of $500,000 for each approved project and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will administer the program.

Oil and gas operators will need to certify the number of jobs created for Wyoming workers. To qualify as a Wyoming worker, the worker must be a resident of Wyoming at the time of the application.

“We look forward to supporting the governor’s Energy Rebound Program by administering this additional funding. The program has proven to be successful in supporting projects and employment within the oil and gas industry,” stated WOGCC Deputy Supervisor Tom Kropatsch. “Our evaluation of the applications and post program reporting to ensure compliance with program rules will be essential in making this version of the Energy Rebound Program as successful as the first.”

The WOGCC will accept applications from June 15 through June 25.

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Solicitor General Says Wyoming Lacks Reason To Sue Over Coal Port Because of Terminal Bankruptcy

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The U.S. Supreme Court needs to rule on the issue of whether Washington state can use its laws to block a proposed coal export terminal, even though the company proposing the terminal has declared bankruptcy, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.

Gordon said he was disappointed with a filing by the U.S. Solicitor General in the lawsuit filed by Wyoming and Montana against the state of Washington over its refusal to issue permits for the Millennium Coal Export Terminal.

The Solicitor General argued to the Supreme Court that because Millennium and its parent company have declared bankruptcy, no coal export terminal will be built, so the issue is moot.

But Gordon said the issue of whether Washington can use its laws to block trade by Wyoming must be settled regardless of the status of the terminal.

“The core issue of reaffirming a state’s constitutionally protected access to markets remains unresolved and I urge the Supreme Court to continue with the case,” he said. “One state should not weaponize a water quality statute inappropriately to deny the other states the ability to conduct interstate commerce.”

The filing is the latest in the lawsuit filed by Wyoming and Montana in January over Washington’s rejection of the terminal.

The coal export terminal was seen as a way to provide Wyoming coal with access to overseas markets. It was rejected by Washington state officials under terms of the Clean Water Act.

But Wyoming and Montana argued the move was based instead on political opposition to the use of coal as fuel and that the denial of the terminal’s permits amounted to violating the states’ rights to interstate commerce.

The lawsuit asked that Washington’s order rejecting the port be ruled null and void.

But the Solicitor General’s Tuesday filing argued that since Millennium has given up on the terminal, there is no issue for the Supreme Court to settle.

“Regardless of whether that (permit) denial was unlawful … Millennium will not be building its proposed terminal,” it said. “Accordingly, this suit would not redress Montana and Wyoming’s asserted injury from the denial …”

Gordon said Wyoming and Montana will file a supplemental brief addressing the arguments.

“We will respond to the Solicitor General’s brief to stress the critical importance of the commerce clause, particularly to inland states,” he said.

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Gordon Outlines How Wyoming Will Spend $1 Billion In Federal Funds

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By The Center Square, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon on Monday outlined how his administration intends to use the $1 billion in federal funds allocated to the state.

The governor’s announcement comes just days after the U.S. Department of Treasury launched the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery funds providing $350 billion in emergency aid to states.

The funding will assist state, local and tribal governments through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act passed by the U.S. Congress in March. Wyoming is set to receive $1 billion from the federal funds to address impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gordon said in a Monday press release that the three areas he plans to disburse the money to are health and social services, education and workforce, and economic diversity and development.

The areas of focus will encompass both short and long-term priorities, allowing for a mix of recovery efforts from the pandemic’s economic effects as well as opportunities for investment. 

“We are going to be laser-focused on addressing Wyoming’s short and long-term recovery, and on getting people back to work,” Gordon said. “I want to ensure we use these dollars to thrive in the long-term, because this federal spending is increasing debt on our children and the generations to come. We must not squander this opportunity to invest wisely in our state’s future.”

Unlike previous relief money that was required to be spent immediately, the state has three years to spend the allotment and will release a distribution framework of the funds in June.

The national disbursement of $350 billion in fiscal recovery money is outlined by the federal government, which gives states more than half of the funds. Over $150 billion in separate funds will be dealt to counties, cities, tribal governments, and territories. 

The Treasury Department has listed a variety of acceptable uses for the money such as increased pay for essential workers, addressing economic impacts from the public health emergency, infrastructure and assisting public sectors with lost revenues. 

Wyoming has received the first half of its payment and will secure the other half from the Treasury within the next 12 months. 

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Gordon Extends Masks in Schools and Capacity Limit Public Health Orders Until May 31

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s final two coronavirus-related health orders will remain in place until at least the end of the month.

The orders require mask use in schools (although several of Wyoming’s school districts have received variances, such as Natrona County) and a limit on attendance at indoor events of more than 500 people to 50% of a venue’s capacity and the observation of specific mask use protocols for large outdoor events.

These orders will remain in effect until at least May 31.

While Gov. Mark Gordon has relaxed most of the coronavirus health orders in the last two months, these are the final two health orders that remain.

The Wyoming Department of Health recommends the use of masks in indoor public places for people who aren’t fully vaccinated when common-sense physical distancing cannot be maintained between those who don’t live in the same household.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that those who were fully vaccinated did not need to wear masks in most indoor and outdoor situations except when using public transportation or in crowded indoor spaces.

More than 180,000 Wyoming residents have been vaccinated against the virus, about 26% of the state’s population.

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Governor Gordon Withdraws Wyoming from COVID-era Unemployment Programs

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Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon on Tuesday announced that Wyoming will end its participation in federal supplemental unemployment benefits in order to address workforce shortages being felt throughout the state.

The programs were made available through federal laws initiated in response to the pandemic and include Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and Continued Assistance to Unemployed Workers Act of 2020. The additional payments will no longer be available to claimants as of June 19, 2021.

“Wyoming needs workers, our businesses are raring to go,” Governor Gordon said. “I recognize the challenges facing Wyoming employers, and I believe it’s critical for us to do what we can to encourage more hiring. Federal unemployment programs have provided short-term relief for displaced and vulnerable workers at a tough time, but are now hindering the pace of our recovery. People want to work, and work is available. Incentivizing people not to work is just plain un-American.”

Effective June 19, 2021, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services will stop paying these benefits to existing claimants and will no longer accept new claims for the following federal UI programs:

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) – A $300 per week supplemental payment in addition to other UI benefits. 

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) – An extension of regular UI benefits. Regular UI is limited to 26 weeks. The current version of PEUC would extend UI benefits up to a maximum of 53 additional weeks. 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) – Provided eligibility for many people who would not normally be eligible for UI benefits and who had lost their income due to COVID-19. This includes, for instance, those who were self-employed or those who worked for non-profits or other businesses that were not required to pay UI taxes. 

The Department of Workforce Services reminds Wyoming workers that state assistance is available when the FPUC, PEUC and PUA programs end.

“The 20 Workforce Centers around the state have many opportunities to help those who are seeking work,” said DWS Director Robin Sessions Cooley. “The Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) program and the Workforce Development Training Fund, including our Apprenticeship Grants and Internship Grants, can help a person obtain not just a job, but a career.”

The Governor’s decision was welcomed by Chris Brown, Executive Director of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association. The hospitality industry was among the hardest hit by the pandemic, but he said the industry is now struggling to hire staff.

“We applaud Governor Gordon’s leadership with this decision and we look forward to providing true Wyoming hospitality to the visiting public as we continue to recover as an industry,” Brown said.

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Gordon Urges Biden Administration To Take Action At Border

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By Derek Draplin | The Center Square 

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and 19 other Republican governors sent a letter Tuesday to President Joe Biden urging him to secure the southern border and stem the influx of migrants illegally entering the country.

The governors who signed onto the letter allege that the administration’s policy changes and rhetoric have led to the ongoing crisis that they said is “too big to ignore and is now spilling over the border states into all of our states.”

The governors note in the letter that Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) reported 172,000 encounters at the border in March, and almost 19,000 unaccompanied minors.

The letter also alleges that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “circumvented” states by asking private, nonprofit organizations to house unaccompanied minors.

“Allowing the federal government to place a potentially unlimited number of unaccompanied migrant children into our states’ facilities for an unspecified length of time with almost zero transparency is unacceptable and unsustainable,” the governors said. “We have neither the resources nor the obligation to solve the federal government’s problem and foot the bill for the consequences of this Administration’s misguided actions.” 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office recently estimated that the state spends $850 million a year on illegal immigration. Texas is among states suing the federal government of its handling of the border.

“This Administration has enticed a rush of migrants to our border and incentivized an influx of illegal crossings by using irresponsible rhetoric and reversing a slew of policies – from halting border wall construction to eliminating asylum agreements to refusing to enforce immigration laws,” the letter said. “Even officials of our neighbor, Mexico, reportedly conveyed concerns that the shift in U.S. policy is stoking illegal immigration and creating business for organized crime.”

“Federal, state, and local authorities are overwhelmed, and the situation on the ground is heartbreaking,” the letter continued, adding that “beyond the humanitarian crisis, the lack of border security is a criminal one, threatening the safety of American citizens.”

In April, Ducey declared a state of emergency in Arizona and deployed 250 National Guard troops to the border.

“Arizona has deployed all available resources, including the National Guard, but we need federal cooperation to secure the border,” Ducey said in a statement Tuesday.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement that the administration’s rhetoric “and the rollback of critical agreements with our allies have led to the inhumane treatment of tens of thousands of children and undermined a fragile immigration system.”

Of the nation’s 50 governors, 27 are Republicans and 23 are Democrats.

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Gordon Officially Bans Vaccine Passports In Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon has officially banned state agencies, boards and commissions from requiring “vaccine passports” to access state spaces and services.

The new directive, issued Friday, instructs state agencies, boards and commissions to provide full access to spaces and services regardless of a person’s coronavirus vaccination status.

“Vaccine passport programs have the potential to politicize a decision that should not be politicized,” Gordon said. “They would divide our citizens at a time when unity in fighting the virus is essential, and harm those who are medically unable to receive the vaccine. While I strongly encourage Wyomingites over the age of 16 to get vaccinated against COVID-19, it is a personal choice based upon personal circumstances.”

The new directive also encouaged Wyoming’s counties, cities and towns, as well as private business, to follow the state’s example in providing access to public spaces and services to all.

This follows in the steps of other Republican governors across the country, such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who have issued similar orders over the last month.

Nebraska Governor Pete Rickets of Nebraska said the idea of any type of medical passport “violates two central tenets of the American system: freedom of movement and health care privacy.”

Gordon had previously said he had no intention of implementing a vaccine passport, but Friday’s order made it official.

More than 180,000 Wyoming residents have been vaccinated against the virus, about 26% of the state’s population, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

The governor again encouraged residents to get one of the three available vaccines.

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Gordon: Energy Moratorium Is Bad For Country, Climate, Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s public services will all suffer with the halt in energy development on public lands, Gov. Mark Gordon told a congressional committee Tuesday.

Gordon spoke in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, telling the senators why President Joe Biden’s energy moratorium is unnecessary and how the policy is harming Wyoming’s economy.

“This leasing ‘review’ is a crafty way of establishing a moratorium on federal lease sales, making continued progress ever more tenuous, more difficult, and more likely that good-paying, family supporting jobs will migrate somewhere else,” Gordon told the committee. “That is bad for this country, for the climate, and especially for Wyoming.”

In addition to Gordon, testimony came from Vicki Hollub of Occidental Petroleum, Pueblo of Acoma Gov. Brian Vallo and U.S. Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director Nada Culver.

Gordon noted that Wyoming ranks first in natural gas production on public lands and second in oil, and that this production is vital to the funding of schools, health care, public safety and other essential services.

Energy-related tax revenues from public lands in Wyoming totaled $457 million last fiscal year. Approximately $5.7 million of that was due to lease sales, but Wyoming has seen no lease sale revenues this year because of the moratorium.

“Doing something as extraordinarily draconian as we are with the policies of this administration doesn’t give us time to evolve,” Gordon said.  

In his first seven days in office, Biden issued two executive orders that have halted oil and gas leasing on federal lands pending a review of the federal government’s leasing programs. Gordon and a number of western governors wrote letters protesting the moratorium and members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation have also expressed their opposition.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, who invited Gordon to the meeting to testify, also spoke about how the moratorium will hurt the state.

“Wyoming’s energy has powered this nation for decades, but today, Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain West is under attack,” the senator said. “There are benefits that solar and wind will never be able to replicate.”

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