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Gov Mark Gordon: The Energy Crisis of Tomorrow Can Be Averted Today

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By Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, guest columnist

After 15 months of ignoring a court order, the Biden Administration recently announced the long-overdue resumption of federal oil and gas lease sales – at a greatly reduced scale.

With the available acreage significantly cut back and royalty rates hiked, it’s hard to see the move as anything other than a grand gesture to appease the critics who want more energy security and those who want fewer fossil fuels.

A grand, but empty gesture that will offer few actual solutions to building up our domestic energy reserves, leaving us continually vulnerable to foreign suppliers – particularly our adversaries.

But for a moment, let’s forget about that. The energy crisis of tomorrow is already pacing in the wings of today and it is even more vital for us to get ahead.

The stage has already been set. It’s the same old play, but this time featuring some new players. China with its critical minerals is in a starring role, with Russia and its uranium as the supporting actor.  Right now, the United States is an extra in the background, but if we play it right, we can change that. 

Reaching net-zero emissions globally by 2050 will require the United States to double-down on carbon capture and clean energy technologies that cannot exist without critical and rare earth elements (REEs).

According to a report released last year by the International Energy Agency, a vehicle that runs on electricity requires more than two pounds of rare earth elements. An onshore wind development requires up to nine times more mineral resources than a fossil fuel-powered plant. 

To put it simply, nothing comes for free. Not renewable energy, not nuclear energy, not fossil fuels. It has to come from somewhere

The critical minerals that power renewable technologies – from electric vehicle batteries to wind turbines, to solar photo photovoltaic cells – are currently mined in very few places.

According to the IEA three-quarters of these indispensable materials are coming from just three places in the world: South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and China. When factoring in processing and refining, China’s monopoly of the minerals global market becomes alarmingly stark.

They process more than 60 percent of the world’s lithium and nickel, over 70 percent of cobalt, and as high as 90 percent of REEs. 

Russia’s hold on uranium is just as concerning. As the most reliable carbon-free domestic energy source, nuclear power has the potential to play a hefty role in a decarbonized future. In a recent hearing on domestic critical mineral supply chains, the President of the Uranium Producers of America testified that “U.S. nuclear utilities purchase nearly half of the of the uranium they consume from state-owned entities (SEO) in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.”

More than $1 billion is spent on nuclear fuel that goes  through the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation.

Despite our country’s abundant natural resources, there is only one active site mining rare earth minerals in the United States and almost no uranium production.

This is not because of a lack of resources, but a lack of supply chain capacity and ability to convert these raw resources to functional commodities.

There should be absolutely no reason for this blind dependency on China and Russia when we have the resources and capabilities to mine both critical minerals and uranium on American and Wyoming soil, and to partner with like-minded allies who also have plentiful resources.

While we are already dangerously behind our adversaries in this high-stakes game, domestic energy leaders, like the State of Wyoming, sit poised and ready to lead this charge.

Wyoming is home to one of the highest-grade rare earth deposits in North America. We need additional investment, development, and federal support to move the needle from potential to delivered commodities.

The School of Energy Resources at the University of Wyoming is currently studying the potential of REEs found in coal ash from the Powder River Basin. 

The same holds with uranium. Wyoming has an estimated 250 million pounds in uranium reserves and has been the leading producer in the United States since 1995.

With a new generation of advanced nuclear reactors being deployed – including one in Kemmerer, Wyoming – that require High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU), a higher enriched uranium than what the United States currently produces, we must invest now in the infrastructure to ensure that the advanced reactor fuel cycle can be domestic. 

As we grapple with the twin-headed monster of energy security and climate change, we must be strategic.

Winston Churchill said, “When you destroy a free market, you create a black market.” Let us be honest and learn from our mistakes with domestic oil and gas production and move expeditiously to secure critical mineral and uranium mining, processing, and refining on our own shores. There will be no clean energy revolution without it.

Wyoming’s energy producers are ready. President Biden, are you?

Mark Gordon is the 33rd Governor of Wyoming

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Program Will Provide ‘Some Relief’ From Rising Property Taxes, Gov. Gordon Says

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By Robert Davis, The Center Square For Cowboy State Daily

A new property tax refund program that was created by legislation signed into law in March will provide relief to some Wyoming taxpayers, according to Gov. Mark Gordon. 

Enrolled Act No. 26 allows counties in the state to create refund programs wherein taxpayers can request a refund of some of their property taxes that were paid last year. The program applies to residents who have lived in the state for at least five years, owned their property for at least nine months, and have paid their 2021 property taxes in full. 

The deadline for applying for the program is Monday, June 6. 

“Wyoming has not raised tax rates, and yet Wyoming citizens are feeling the pinch as their home values have risen,” Gordon said in a statement. 

According to data from Zillow, Wyoming home prices have seen steady growth over the last two years. The average home price in the Cowboy State is now over $315,000, representing a 14.6% climb from last year and a 20.6% increase from May 2020. 

In turn, rising home prices often result in higher property taxes for homeowners. This is just one reason why the administration supported creating the property tax refund program, the governor said. 

“[Wyoming residents] are seeing it in their assessed valuations on their property,” Gordon said. “Homeowners need some relief, and this program offers some.”

Taxpayers interested in applying for the program can get more information from their county treasurer or Wyoming’s Department of Revenue. Applications may be submitted online or sent to the Department of Revenue via mail.  

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Wyoming Gov Mark Gordon Proud Of Work In First Term, Says Covid Was Toughest Challenge

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is proud of the work his administration has performed over the past four years, he said.

Gordon, speaking to Cowboy State Daily during the state Republican Party’s convention in Sheridan last weekend, said his toughest task since taking office in 2019 was helping the state navigate the problems posed by COVID-19. And while the state’s response to the pandemic wasn’t perfect, it had its high points, he said.

Gordon noted Wyoming had one of the highest rates in the nation of students able to attend classes in person during the 2020-21 school year, along with relatively low case numbers. 

“I’d love to take credit for that but that’s really thanks to the Wyoming people,” he said.

Gordon does take credit for the state’s media campaign aimed at promoting the use of face masks and convincing people to get the coronavirus vaccine.

The state is now much better prepared for the next public health emergency and is better equipped with the tools to give people the information they need for informed decision-making, he said.

He said he does have regrets with the way Wyoming shut down its public schools and businesses in the early days of the pandemic.

“Nobody took the time to recognize those challenges,” he said. “But to our credit we rebounded quickly.”

“Work In Progress”

On other topics, Gordon said he considers many of the projects he has undertaken to still be “a work in progress.”

He said the effort to diversify Wyoming’s economy has strong momentum, particularly when it comes to the energy sector and specifically wind energy.

He cited the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project near Rawlins which is projected to be the biggest wind farm in the U.S. and one of the biggest in the world, producing enough energy to power more than 220,000 homes.

Within the renewable sphere, he also included carbon capture, which he considers a crucial aspect of Wyoming’s future as well. Even though Wyoming leads the nation in carbon capture research, it has not yet been determined how it can be accomplished efficiently.

“Wind, solar, they all leave gaps,” he said in regards to becoming too dependent on renewable energy. “We need a dependable electricity source.”

Committed To Coal

Gordon said he is fully committed to continuing coal production in the state and is proud of the work that has been made on the Jim Bridger power plant. 

The state lobbied the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow the continued use of a coal-burning unit at the facility. Gordon said as a result, the EPA does not plan to shut down the unit even though it missed a January deadline to install regional haze pollution controls The agency also plans to accept state’s Regional Haze State Implementation Plan.

“We’re going to continue to show leadership on the energy front,” he said.

Gordon also said he took a different approach to using $200 million in federal COVID response funds the state received, using it to help better position the state for the future. He set up a “Strategy to Survive, Drive and Thrive” to explore the best ways to spend the federal funds, a project which is still ongoing.

Opposition

Gordon’s opponent, Brent Bien, has criticized him for lack of leadership and his handling of the pandemic. Bien, who was also at the convention, said he wants to reduce Wyoming’s ties to the federal government and increase fossil fuel production.

The Wyoming primary election will be on Aug. 16. No Democrats have announced their intention of running against Gordon at this time, but Rex Rammell, a member of the Constitution Party, is running.

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Gordon Applauds Ruling To Reinstate Trump-Era Water Rules

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By Robert Davis, The Center Square

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon applauded a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Thursday that reinstates a Trump-era clean water rule. 

The rule under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act limits states to denying permits for projects based on direct water-quality concerns only, not other reasons. The rule is still pending ongoing litigation in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. 

“As one of the states who sought and obtained this stay from the U.S. Supreme Court, we look forward to a favorable outcome from the appeal,” Gordon said in a statement. 

The decision split the Supreme Court by a 5-4 margin, with its three liberal justices and Chief Justice John Roberts dissenting. Writing for the dissenters, Justice Elena Kagan said the petitioners did not prove there are extraordinary circumstances necessary to grant their request. 

“The applicants here have not met our standard because they have failed to substantiate their assertions of irreparable harm,” Kagan wrote. “The Court therefore has no warrant to grant emergency relief.”

The Trump administration moved to curtail the protections under Section 401 in 2020 at the behest of Republicans and the energy industry, the Associated Press reported.

In response, several environmental groups and states sued to keep the rule from going into effect. Republican-led states and oil and gas industry groups intervened, saying the new rule was necessary to increase U.S. energy production. 

The Biden administration asked the court not to reinstate the rule, saying that officials had adapted to the change. It added that another change could “cause substantial disruption and disserve the public interest,” according to the AP. 

The EPA told the AP that its “moving forward with rulemaking to restore state and Tribal authority to protect water resources that are essential to public health, ecosystems, and economic opportunity.”

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Gordon Says He Wants Second Term To Finish What He Started

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is seeking a second term as the state’s top elected official because he wants to build on the initiatives he launched in his first term, he said Tuesday.

Gordon, who announced his re-election bid in Buffalo on Monday, told Cowboy State Daily that despite the double challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and plummeting state income he faced while serving his first term, he is looking forward to continuing his work for four more years.

“We knew this was going to be a tough time for Wyoming even before COVID came,” he said. “Certainly, both Jenny and I feel strongly that our work isn’t done. It got delayed a little bit, and we knew it was going to take a little bit of time.”

A top priority for Gordon if he is reelected will be to continue work on his Wyoming Innovation Partnership, a program launched in November aimed at having the state’s higher education institutions work with the Wyoming Business Council to create educational programs that will prepare students for future jobs in the state.

“Instead of just reacting to what businesses are bringing to Wyoming, we can anticipate what technologies are going to look like so we can start to pull in more industries and help the industries that are already located here,” he said. “The WIP initiative is something we will push as hard and as fast as we can.”

An important part of the initiative will be judging how many workers are staying in Wyoming and how many new businesses are being lured to the state, Gordon said.

His administration will also focus on the “Reimagining and Innovating the Delivery of Education” program he launched early in 2021 aimed at improving the delivery of education to Wyoming’s students.

“Let’s re-imagine how we deliver education and start on the ground with parents and the communities and the industries that are going to rely on the kids that are coming out of school,” he said. “Let’s wipe the blackboard clean and talk about what’s important for education and … we’ll start talking about are there ways we can redesign the program so it works better, costs less and make sure we get the great teachers we need.”

The end of Gordon’s first term was marked with challenges as he was forced, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, to make cuts of about $250 million in state spending to adjust to steep declines in tax income from the state’s oil and natural gas industry caused by an industry slump. He went on to recommend further cuts of $500 million in the state’s next biennium budget.

The situation proved the state needs to find a way to break away from its dependence on oil and gas, he said.

“I think it gave us an impetus,” he said. “I’d also say anybody who depends as much as we do on those industries and isn’t prepared to take the volatility associated with them has got to recognize we have to diversify our income.”

The pandemic also pointed out the need for the state’s livestock producers to have access to more meat packers, Gordon said, as access to markets was stymied by COVID outbreaks at meat packing plants.

The state has started its work to encourage the development of smaller local packers, Gordon said.

“Maybe we can make a little bit of a dent for producers, and that will mean a lot for our agriculture industry,” he said.

He added that he also expects the state’s innovations in carbon sequestration may also be used to benefit the state’s crops while helping address climate change.

Gordon also dealt with the health concerns raised by the coronavirus pandemic without issuing a “stay-at-home” order, something he said he was very proud of.

However, he also admitted that some people were unhappy with the mask mandates and business restrictions his office issued during the pandemic.

“We always respect people’s point of view,” he said. “People got to express their view, and I certainly heard it. But growing up where I did in Kaycee, we always respected one another’s point of view and sometimes those were pretty harshly expressed. I’m glad I grew up where I did. I didn’t take it personally.”

As the campaign progresses, Gordon said he hopes people recognize the importance of Wyoming values.

“My hope for this election season is that Wyoming people realize we can do more together than we can apart,” he said. “Those core values of respecting one’s individual liberties, taking responsibility for our actions, how that will affect the neighbors, making sure our government is closest to the people, always supporting the military … those are time-honored fundamental principles that have been core to Wyoming. This election ought to be about making sure we continue to support and grow those values.”

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Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon Announces He Will Seek Second Term

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon will seek a second term as Wyoming’s chief executive, he announced in Buffalo on Monday.

Gordon, speaking to a crowd of supporters in his hometown, said while he has been able to accomplish much during his first term in office, there is more to do.

“Energy ups and downs and the effects of COVID have been tough on Wyoming” he said in a video announcing his re-election bid. “But we’re going to be OK. We always are when we stick together.”

During his comments in Buffalo, Gordon pointed out Wyoming was one of the states to impose few restrictions on its residents during the coronavirus pandemic and kept students in school for more days than any state in the nation.

“Wyoming and the world have been through a tough stretch these past two years, but we focused on saving both lives and livelihoods,” he said.

Gordon, a former state treasurer, was elected to his first term in the governor’s office in 2018, defeating Democrat Mary Throne by a vote of 136,412 to 55,965. 

The majority of Gordon’s first term was marked by his efforts to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and significant cuts in the state’s income due to slumps in the oil and natural gas industry.

In the course of the pandemic, Gordon consistently resisted calls to issue “stay-at-home” orders, instead issuing orders that closed schools and some businesses and prohibited gatherings of 10 or more people.

Gordon repeatedly said he had faith that the common sense actions of Wyoming residents would make a “stay-at-home” order unnecessary.

“We are not trying to shut down Wyoming,” he said during a news conference in March 2020. “But your voluntary action and discipline will make the difference on whether we can slow the spread of COVID-19. I want to emphasize the orders we put in place are only effective if you take them seriously.”

Under Gordon, the state joined several others in challenging the proposal by the administration of President Joe Biden to require coronavirus vaccinations among health care workers and federal employees.

Gordon did require Wyoming residents to use facemasks beginning in December 2020, a decision that generated protest rallies and confrontations at the state Capitol. The mandate was lifted about three months later.

Gordon was also faced with the need to cut the state’s spending by more than $600 million as a slump in the state’s oil and naturals industries, paired with losses of revenue caused by the coronavirus, sent state revenues plummeting.

The state also challenged the Biden administration’s efforts to curtail oil and natural gas production on federal land filing a lawsuit in federal court.

Two others have announced their intention to run for the governor’s office, veterinarian and frequent candidate Rex Rammell and Cheyenne truck driver Aaron Nab.

Two-Year Covid Anniversary: Gordon Says Wyoming Handled Pandemic “Very Well”

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s decision not to impose any kind of a “stay-at-home” order at the height of the coronavirus pandemic was the right one, Gov. Mark Gordon said Monday.

Gordon, speaking to reporters following the end of the Legislature’s budget session, reflected on the emergency declaration issued because of the coronavirus that was allowed to expire Monday after being in place for two years.

Gordon noted that the state was one of just a handful not to tell its residents to “shelter in place” and the decision turned out to be the right one.

“I’m very proud that we stood up for people’s liberties,” he said. “There were only seven of us that refused to really put some kind of ‘stay-at-home’ orders in place. And I think all of us have had a really good track record showing that we didn’t need to do that.”

Gordon said he feels Wyoming did a good job of managing the illness, which forced the shutdown of much of the nation after it was discovered in early 2020.

“I think the state did very well,” he said. “And I know not everybody’s happy and I certainly understand that, but when I think you look at our achievements, starting with school days … we have … reportedly the most school days in-person, percentage-wise, of any state in the nation I know a lot of my Republican colleagues are talking about that, too.”

Although Wyoming was competing with other states for scarce federal resources, such as personal protective equipment, it was able to do so successfully, Gordon said.

“I’m glad that we punched well above our weight in that effort,” he said.

Gordon praised the state’s public health laboratory for developing testing techniques and mediums that allowed the state to keep up with COVID testing even when national supplies were slim.

He also noted the state’s residents did what they could to minimize the impact of the illness, even though some may have objected to the restrictions put in place on businesses in 2020.

“When I looked around the state at the people of Wyoming … they were really good about what needed to be done and how they needed to address it,” he said. “I’m very proud of the fact that … people got (to) stress their points of view, their dissatisfaction with what the state government was doing. You know, nobody got arrested or thrown in jail because of this.”

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Gordon To End Wyoming’s COVID Emergency Declaration In March

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Monday that he has begun the process to end Wyoming’s COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, two years after it was put in place.

The declaration will end March 14, two years after COVID was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

“As we see our case numbers and hospitalizations receding, it is time to begin the shift to a new phase. This virus will be with us for the foreseeable future and we should manage it appropriately,” Gordon said. “That means being personally responsible for one’s own health and respectful of your family and neighbors. Use the tools we now have available and stay home when you’re sick.”

As Monday, Wyoming had 565 active COVID cases.

Gordon has been coordinating with impacted executive branch agencies and licensing boards to ensure they are prepared to make adjustments where necessary.

Gordon declared an emergency for the state on March 13, 2020, shortly after then-President Donald Trump declared a nationwide emergency.

The declaration allowed the state to be better prepared to activate its National Guard, if necessary, and allowed businesses to take advantage of emergency COVID relief programs.

It also cleared the way for Gordon in December 2020 to issue a statewide mandate the use of facemasks. The order was lifted in March 2021.

Going forward, the Wyoming Department of Health will continue to serve as a resource for COVID information and support, Gordon said.

Most Wyomingites will not be affected by the end of the declaration, Gordon said. The limited scope of impacts include the expiration of the federally-funded SNAP emergency allotment, which will take effect May 1, and the elimination of emergency rule changes to licensure requirements for the Board of Medicine and the Board of Nursing.

“I extend my appreciation to our medical community, first responders, public health officials and National Guard volunteers statewide who have shown their commitment to the people of Wyoming throughout this pandemic,” the Governor said. “As we wind down from the emergency, the public can expect to see some changes in how information is relayed.”

Gordon, the Department of Health, a number of school districts and several other defendants are in the midst of a lawsuit brought forth by a slew of plaintiffs over school mask mandates and Gordon’s emergency health order.

The lawsuit asks the court to find there was never an imminent threat to Wyoming’s residents from coronavirus, that Gordon’s initial emergency declaration was unconstitutional, that school districts have no authority to impose such mandates and that all such orders should be lifted immediately.

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Gordon State of the State: Wyoming Has Survived Tough Times & Things are Getting Better

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming has survived difficult times in the last several years and conditions appear to be improving, Gov. Mark Gordon told the Legislature on Monday.

Gordon, during his “state of the state” address to open the Legislature’s budget session, said throughout the pandemic,  the state’s residents have been able to work, its students have been able to learn and it has successfully stood up to federal mandates that were contrary to the state’s interests.

“Despite tremendous challenges, Wyoming is strong and getting stronger,” he said. “We are strong because of our character, resilient because of our nature and optimistic because Wyoming people are doers. I believe there is an undeniable momentum in Wyoming these days.”

Gordon’s comments marked the official start to the Legislature’s 20-day budget session, during which lawmakers will study a proposed budget for fiscal 2023-24 that would spend almost $2.8 billion from the state’s main bank account, its general fund, to finance government operations.

Gordon described the budget as “well planned, transparent and forward-looking” and designed to keep state government operating effectively and efficiently and within the state’s means.

“We have not seen the end to the assault on our state’s core industries perpetrated by this administration,” he said. “Therefore, my main focus must remain on the long-term fiscal viability of Wyoming and our ability to fight back. That is why I have proposed placing an additional $400 million in savings.”

A top priority for Gordon in the next biennium’s budget is moving the salaries of state employees closer to market levels and he has put $53 million into the budget for that purpose.

“I regard this as critical to the functioning of our state enterprise,” he said. “From our troopers, snow plow drivers, social workers and others, Wyoming is struggling to staff the very agencies that provide the services the people of Wyoming need.”

On other topics, Gordon pledged to continue battling against policies issued by the administration of President Joe Biden that are harmful to Wyoming’s energy industry.

Gordon noted that Biden’s policies reduced domestic oil and gas production while at the same time the administration asked for more oil imports from Russia and more oil production by OPEC countries.

“Mr. Biden, tear up your energy policy,” he said. “Let Wyoming power the country. Give us the tools and the chance to make this nation energy independent again. Wyoming has it all: the best wind, solar, gas, coal, nuclear and the ability to store 50 years’ worth of our nation’s total carbon emissions.”

Gordon continued to endorse what he called an “all-of-the-above” energy policy that uses both fossil fuels and renewable energy sources to meet the country’s energy needs.

The budget also includes money to finance legal action and work by the state engineer to protect Wyoming’s water supply, Gordon said.

“When drought or the federal government threatens Wyoming water users, our agricultural producers, our industry, our communities, we cannot afford to be short-handed or unprepared,” he said.

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Defense Secretary Tells Gordon National Guard Members Must Get COVID Vaccine

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Secretary of Defense told Gov. Mark Gordon in a letter sent late last week that regardless of any objections at the state level, Wyoming Air and Army National Guard members must be vaccinated against COVID.

Last month, Gordon and several other Republican governors sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, in which they argued that Austin has no authority to discipline members of the National Guard serving in a state capacity.

Austin responded in a letter dated Jan. 27, telling Gordon that he considered the thousands of COVID-related hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths among service members, civilians and their families when making the mandate.

“COVID-19 takes our service members out of the fight, temporarily or permanently, and jeopardizes our ability to meet mission requirements,” Austin said in the letter to Gordon.

“To ensure that we maintain a healthy and ready military force capable of accomplishing our mission to defend this nation and to protect the American people, vaccination against COVID-19 is an essential military readiness requirement for all components and units of the military, including the Wyoming National Guard,” he said.

Gordon’s spokesman Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that the governor’s position follows the constitutional premise that the commander-in-chief of a state’s National Guard is the governor of the state.

“Therefore, he maintains command and control over this important force, not the Department of Defense unless activated by the President,” Pearlman said. 

“Secretary of Defense Austin’s response to the governors’ concerns fails to consider and address this important constitutional and legal issue. The governor intends to continue to dialog with the federal authorities to attempt to resolve this critical national issue,” he said.

Last month, Gordon said the federal government does not have command or control of National Guard units.

“The Wyoming National Guard is under my command and control,” Gordon said in mid-December. “These directives are an overreach of the federal government’s authority.”

In the letter to Austin, the governors noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed “that the National Guard is under the command and control of the Governor of each state unless those members are called to active service …”

Austin told Gordon that the concerns raised in the letter did not negate the need for vaccines.

Under the vaccine mandate of the administration of President Joe Biden, National Guard members were given until Dec. 2 to get the vaccine, obtain an exemption from the requirement or be removed from service.

Austin sent identical letters to the other governors who sent the one in December, including Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi and Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska and Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma.

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Gordon Opposes Halt On Superintendent Pick, Says He’s Upholding The Law

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is asking a federal court to allow him to follow Wyoming law and proceed with the appointment of a new superintendent of public instruction.

Gordon, in a court brief filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, asked Judge Scott Skavdahl to deny a request for a temporary restraining order that would prevent him from appointing a new superintendent to finish out the term of Jillian Balow in accordance with state law.

“As the duly elected governor of the state of Wyoming, Gov. Gordon has taken an oath to uphold the laws of the state …” the brief said. “Thus, Gov. Gordon’s interest in this matter is to comply with Wyoming law and fulfill his duties as the governor.”

Balow resigned earlier this month to take a similar job in Virginia.

Under state law, Gordon is to appoint a replacement by midnight Thursday from a list of nominees provided by the central committee of the Wyoming Republican Party.

The party’s central committee on Saturday selected three nominees from a field of 12 applicants.

However, the selection process is being challenged by a bipartisan group of Wyoming residents in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday.

The lawsuit alleges that the selection process used by the central committee violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. and Wyoming constitutions.

According to the lawsuit, because the central committee is made up of three representatives of each county, when making decisions such as selecting nominees for the superintendent’s job, counties with smaller populations have a disproportionately large influence on the outcome.

The process violates the concept of “one man, one vote,” according to the lawsuit.

The request for a temporary restraining order aimed at blocking Gordon from acting on the vacancy was filed at the same as the lawsuit.

Skavdahl was expected to rule on the request by noon Thursday.

Gordon, in his brief opposing the order, noted that the lawsuit challenges the way the GOP selects nominees, not the way he selects replacements for statewide office.

“Even so, the governor does have an interest in being able to exercise his required duties under Wyoming statute as well as in seeing a vacancy in an executive branch office filled expeditiously,” the filing said.

The nominee selection process within the party does not violate the “one man, one vote” rule as alleged in the lawsuit, the brief said.

“This statutory process did not deprive Wyoming voters of fair and effective representation, regardless of the procedure the committee followed to select the nominees,” it said.

A temporary restraining order is often issued when it is likely that a lawsuit will be successful. Gordon’s brief, however, said it is unlikely the plaintiffs will succeed, so the restraining order should not be issued.

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Gordon Submits Petition To Remove Grizzlies From Endangered Species List

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon on Tuesday officially petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the endangered species list and put their management in the hands of the surrounding states.

The petition, filed with the support of Idaho and Montana, states that grizzly bears in the region have been fully recovered, as defined by federal guidelines, since 2003.

“This is an extraordinary and monumental success story for species recovery and should be celebrated,” Gordon said. “The GYE grizzly bear is ready to join the ranks of the bald eagle, American alligator, peregrine falcon and brown pelican as receiving proper recognition as a thriving, recovered and stable species.”

Gordon reiterated there is no biological or legal reason to keep ecosystem’s grizzly on the Endangered Species List. Data shows that the grizzly population totals more than 1,000 in the region, exceeding the requirements for a recovered, viable population.

“Grizzly bears in the GYE are fully recovered and their management is now best entrusted to the experienced and capable institutions of the states. After all, Wyoming has invested more than $52 million and dedicated countless hours of Game and Fish expertise to reach this point,” Governor Gordon said. “We’re optimistic the Service will view the petition favorably, and we look forward to working with them on delisting.”

The FWS has 90 days to review the petition. At that time, the petition can be denied or approved for additional review.

If approved, the FWS can take up to 12 months to further review and analyze the state’s request and come to a final decision. 

In September, Gordon said he was confident the federal government would side with the states in removing the GYE bears from the list.

“I am optimistic,” he said at the time. “This administration … continues to talk about the science and how we need to follow the science, Wyoming has the very best science so I’ll take them at their word.”

In 1975, there were 136 grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In 2019, there were 728 bears, evidence of an effective conservation effort. At this point, grizzly numbers have been in the 700s for a number of years. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team’s analysis suggests that the park is at or near its ecological carrying capacity for grizzly bears.

Grizzly bears were removed briefly from the endangered species list in 2017, but a federal judge ordered them to be returned to the list, returning management of the animals to the federal government.

Wyoming’s delegation — U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney — are also unanimous in their support of removing the grizzly from the endangered species at.

Cheney introduced legislation called the “Grizzly Bear State Management Act of 2021,” which would empower states to manage their grizzly populations based on science. Barrasso and Lummis have offered the same legislation in the Senate.

Bears have become so populous in the park and Yellowstone area that it is common for tourists to encounter them every summer. 

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Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon Reads “Twas The Night Before Christmas”

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon’s office on Thursday released a video of the governor reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and posted it on his Facebook page.

The governor prefaced the holiday reading by saying that it is a family tradition of the Gordon household to read the classic story written by Clement Moore.

“I encourage you to share this with children who might also enjoy it,” Gordon said.

Perhaps in an attempt to head off controversy in the social media world, Gordon did call attention to the oft-debated name of the seventh reindeer.

“For the purists out there, this book lists one of Santa’s reindeer as ‘Donder’ instead of ‘Donner,'” the governor said.

Moore’s original writing referred to the reindeer as “Dunder” — a name shared by the fictional paper company “Dunder and Mifflin” from the TV Show “The Office.”

Some Christmas historians believe that was a typo and the name should have been “Donder.”

It was later changed, historians say, because some publishers believed Moore meant “Donner” as that’s the German word for thunder.

Blitzen, incidentally, was originally Blixem — which is the German word for lightning. Thus, Thunder and Lightning.

But Blixem was later changed to Blixen to rhyme with Vixen.

When Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer made his debut in 1939, the reindeer’s name in question was spelled as Donner and it has appeared to stick since then.

For example, the reindeer was referred to as Donner when a writer and part-time criminologist was making a case in 2014 that all of the other reindeers’ mockery of Rudolph’s nose should be considered a hate-crime.

“Donner and Blitzen, two prominent reindeer who may or may not have taken part in the alleged bullying [of Rudolph], were said to be cooperating with the investigation and providing details about specific instances of bullying,” Dan Koontz wrote.

If prospective viewers can put aside the heated — but so far not violent — debate over Donner’s name, then the governor’s presentation could be a nice Christmas video to watch.

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Wyoming Asks Supreme Court To Block Federal Vaccine Mandate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming has joined a coalition of other states in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s decision allowing a federal vaccine mandate for companies employing more than 100 people to take effect.

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Monday that as its latest move to battle the mandate, Wyoming joined 26 other states in filing an emergency application for an administrative stay of the decision of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in November issued a stay to block the Occupational Health and Safety Administration from drafting rules to enforce the vaccine mandate proposed by President Joe Biden. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week overturned that decision, allowing OSHA to proceed with the rules. The decision would be in place until the 6th Circuit Court completed its review of the full lawsuit challenging the mandate.

In its appeal, the coalition asked the court to reinstate the nationwide stay of the vaccine mandate issued by the 5th Circuit Court. It also asked the Supreme Court to settle look at the entire case instead of allowing to to be decided by the 6th Circuit Court.

“While we are disappointed with the decision of the 6th Circuit’s panel, we immediately requested that the Supreme Court halt this mandate and hear this case,” Gordon said. “This overreaching rule exceeds OSHA’s authority and threatens the rights of Wyoming citizens and her industries.”

President Joe Biden earlier this year announced his plan to require vaccinations for federal employees, health care workers and workers at companies that employ more than 100.

Wyoming, along with other states, has challenged all three pieces of the proposed mandate. The mandate for health care workers was overturned in the states that filed challenges, but allowed to take effect in other states. The Department of Justice has asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the mandate nationally.

The mandate for federal contractors was blocked earlier in December by a federal appeals court in Georgia.

In their challenge of the mandate on companies employing more than 100, Wyoming and the other states argued that the federal government has no authority to dictate health care measures to private companies and individuals.

Last week, Gordon joined four other Republican governors in challenging the federal government’s ability to enforce a vaccine mandate on National Guard members.

In the letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, the governors argued that disciplinary directives to National Guard members serving in a state capacity “are beyond (the Secretary’s) constitutional and statutory authority.”

Last month, Gordon signed HB1002, which prohibits state and local public entities from enforcing a federal mandate. However, it would not take effect until a federal court, in response to legal action, blocks the mandate.

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Gordon Unveils Ways State Will Use $500M In American Rescue Plan Funds

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon on Thursday unveiled his proposals for the first $500 million round of American Rescue Plan Act funding.

In a letter to the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee, Gordon recommended dedicating just under $500 million in funds to a range of programs and investments, with amy leftover funds to be set aside for savings or used for future ideas.

Wyoming will ultimately receive more than $1 billion directly from the ARP.

Gordon noted that nearly $4 billion in requests were brought forward for consideration, and some of those proposals he proposed funding through other sources, such as money included in the recently approved federal infrastructure bill.

Wyoming received  $534 million of the $1.68 billion in ARPA funding in May and is set to receive a second payment of the same amount in 2022.

“This winnowing of proposals was not done casually, but thoughtfully in accordance with the principles outlined at the start of this endeavor to preserve opportunity and foster long-term resilience,” Gordon wrote. “In many cases we reduced the initial request to an amount that could be used as a preliminary investment, as I believe it prudent to analyze the effectiveness of a program or proposal before committing additional dollars.”

Among other things, Gordon recommended placing $100 million in the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA) to use as matching funds for a wide range of energy-related projects. 

Other items included in the Governor’s proposal are:

  • $55 million for the next phases of the Wyoming Innovation Partnership to help expand the state’s workforce and economy. 
  • $75 million to the Wyoming Wildlife Trust Fund, which would fully fund the Trust and save general funds in future years.
  • $50 million for local government support projects 
  • $40 million for grants to enhance outdoor recreation in Wyoming and to help communities pursue construction of new outdoor recreation products and infrastructure 
  • $30 million to economic development efforts to support mining, agriculture and entrepreneurship. 
  • $10 million for the Cultural Trust Fund to promote arts and historic preservation in Wyoming. 
  • $10 million to match federal funds for wildlife/highway crossing projects. 
  • $10 million to expand Health and Human Services Staffing Stabilization efforts to include providers caring for vulnerable and at-risk populations 

Gordon welcomed feedback on the proposals, both from the legislature and the public.

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Gordon Condemns Punishment Against National Guard Who Don’t Get Vaxed

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon has joined four other Republican governors in challenging the federal government’s ability to enforce a vaccine mandate on National Guard members.

In the letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, the governors argued that disciplinary directives to National Guard members serving in a state capacity “are beyond (the Secretary’s) constitutional and statutory authority.”

Under the vaccine mandate of the administration of President Joe Biden, National Guard members were given until Dec. 2 to get the vaccine, obtain an exemption from the requirement or be removed from service.

But Gordon said the federal government does not have command or control of National Guard units.

“Under Title 32 duty status, the Wyoming National Guard is under my command and control,” Gordon said Tuesday. “These directives are an overreach of the federal government’s authority.”

In the letter to Austin, the governors noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed “that the National Guard is under the command and control of the Governor of each state unless those members are called to active service under Title 10.”

The letter asks Austin to reconsider directives that dictate whether training can occur, set punishment requirements and require separation from a state’s National Guard for any Guard member refusing to be COVID-19 vaccinated.

Joining Gordon in signing the letter were Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi and Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska and Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma.

Late last month, a federal judge ordered a halt to the enforcement and implementation of the vaccine mandate for health care workers in Wyoming and other states.

Wyoming, as part of a coalition with nine other states, argued that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services does not have authority to issue the mandate and that the vaccine requirement would impact the ability of health care facilities to effectively care for patients.

President Joe Biden earlier this year announced his plan to require vaccinations for federal employees, health care workers and workers at companies that employ more than 100.

Last month, Gordon signed HB1002, which prohibits state and local public entities from enforcing a federal mandate. However, it would not take effect until a federal court, in response to legal action, blocks the mandate.

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Poll: Gordon Ranked Nation’s 5th Most Popular Governor With 66% Approval Rating

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon has been ranked as the nation’s fifth most popular governor in a recent poll conducted by the Morning Consult.

While one former state legislator said he was not surprised by Gordon’s high ranking, another questioned the survey’s methodology.

The Morning Consult is a privately-owned data intelligence company, and this week, it published its annual ranking of the most popular governors in America.

Gordon rounded out the top five, all Republican governors, with an approval rating of 66%.

“The Governor is not focused on polling, but is focused on providing fiscally conservative leadership,” Gordon spokesman Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily.

“He remains committed to a limited and transparent government that works for the people of Wyoming and will continue to challenge the Biden administration on multiple fronts to protect and preserve Wyoming’s freedoms and its core industries,” he said.

Former legislator Diemer True, also a former chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party, was unsurprised that Gordon ranked so high in the poll and complimented Gordon for his work in the state’s highest office.

“He’s been dealt a very difficult hand with the pandemic and budget crisis and he still stayed in touch with the voters,” True told Cowboy State Daily. “I think people look at him as facing a very, very difficult task and doing the best he can with it.”

True added that he was glad he was not in Gordon’s position when dealing with the pandemic, and said the 66% approval rating was good by any standard, but especially during the challenging time when Gordon took office.

However, former representative Scott Clem of Gillette, who has been critical of Gordon since he took office, questioned the survey’s methods.

“According to the poll, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is tied with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), both at 50%. Even more startling, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is sitting at 51%, even though Republicans just swept the state in the last election a few weeks ago,” Clem told Cowboy State Daily. “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is one of the most popular Republicans in the US, is sitting at 52%. In fact, the great tyrant from California, Gavin Newsom (D) is beating all those at 56%.

“Then there is Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, who has shown more courage and fortitude than nearly everyone else, sitting at 58%,” Clem continued. “Yet we’re to believe that Gordon is more popular than them all, at 66%? That’s sounds about as accurate as those who tell us that masks stop people from getting the coronavirus.”

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott was ranked as the most popular governor, with an approval rating of 79%. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, was the least popular in the poll, with an approval rating of 43%.

Responses for the poll were gathered between July 21 and Oct. 20 among registered voters in each state. There is a margin of error of plus or minus 4%.

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Gordon Launches Wyoming Innovation Partnership With $27M In Federal Funds

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon announced that he would be allocating $27 million in federal funds to cover the first year of the newly launched Wyoming Innovation Partnership.

The WIP is seen as a new effort to better diversify and grow the state’s economy and workforce. It’s intended to support the state’s overall economic vision set forth by the Wyoming Business Council and support education attainment goals developed by the state.

“I believe there is urgency in launching the first phase of this initiative as a means to help Wyoming’s economy grow and thrive as we move out of the COVID pandemic,” Gordon said. “The projects this funding supports build on successes we have already seen to develop needed workforce and to engage the entrepreneurs of Wyoming so they can innovate and grow businesses and technologies.”

“This investment will utilize our higher education institutions to help chart a path to a healthy future for Wyoming,” Gordon continued. “By working together we can create more opportunities for people to live and work in our state, and ensure our workforce has the skills they need for the jobs and industries of today and into the future.”

In the first phase of the WIP, American Rescue Plan funds will be allocated to both the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges for collaborative programs in entrepreneurship, energy, digital infrastructure, technology, tourism and hospitality.

The institutions of higher education are committed to using this as “start-up” funds and plan to develop means to find new efficiencies so that the programs can be self-sustaining.

“We appreciate Governor Gordon’s commitment of this valuable federal funding to help the state’s higher education institutions launch new initiatives that we’re confident will provide strong returns for the state’s long-term economic future,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “This collaboration will allow us to accomplish much more than if we were to act independently, and the opportunities before us are exciting.”

Casper College President Darren Devine said that the funding will help the community colleges both implement WIP and bolster existing efforts that have been launched in recent years.

“ARP funding will serve to leverage hard work already completed over the past several years,” Devine said on behalf of the community colleges and the college commission. “The statewide longitudinal education data system, WyoTransfer process, Wyoming Works, and the attainment work, have all established a strong foundation to work from to enhance our economic development and innovation efforts.”

Among the educational programs that will be launched to serve Wyoming students and businesses is a new Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which includes expanding UW’s IMPACT 307 business incubators, currently located in Laramie, Casper and Sheridan, to all community college cities, including Cheyenne, Gillette and Powell.

The funds will also help start a statewide computing education program, which includes a new School of Computing at UW, the launch of a software development degree with Northern Wyoming Community College District taking the lead on initial program development and delivery and for fintech and blockchain curriculum development and instruction.

In the area of tourism and hospitality, UW will launch its Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality Center. Casper College, Central Wyoming College, Northwest College, NWCCD and Laramie County Community College will receive program support in search and rescue, culinary and hotel/restaurant/event management training and outdoor recreation and to all of the institutions to establish training programs to address underserved needs in the state’s number two industry.

In the critical areas of energy and natural resources, funding also is provided for power line technology and low-voltage fiber-optic programs at the community colleges.

The WIP is focused on workforce development on high-potential industry sectors both statewide and regionally, including reinforcing support for the successful community college Wyoming Works and Wyoming Investment in Nursing faculty programs.

Embedded within the WIP effort is supporting and training entrepreneurs and new business startups, a research and market analysis agenda aimed at technology transfer and commercialization and developing outside revenue sources such as corporate partnerships to provide new opportunities for students.

The intent is to better focus the state’s resources to assist both existing industries and areas identified as having significant growth potential. Additional industry sectors such as healthcare, agriculture, and manufacturing are part of the multi-year WIP outline.

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Gordon Welcomes News OSHA Won’t Enforce Biden Vaccine Mandate

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is welcoming news that a federal agency is suspending enforcement of President Joe Biden’s proposed coronavirus vaccination mandate.

Gordon, in a Facebook post, said he was pleased to hear that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration will not enforce a requirement that workers at companies with more than 100 employees get the vaccine or be tested regularly for coronavirus.

“This is welcome news for Wyoming,” Gordon said. “We will continue to fight these unlawful federal policies.”

OSHA’s Wednesday announcement came after a federal appeals court in New Orleans maintained a stay of the mandate issued by a lower court.

A three-judge panel for the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Nov. 12 that plaintiffs behind lawsuits filed against the federal government over the mandate would probably be successful in their claims that the Biden administration had overreached its authority with the mandate.

Biden earlier this year announced his plan to require vaccinations for federal employees, health care workers and workers at companies that employ more than 100.

OSHA was given responsibility for drafting rules to put the mandate in place for large employers. In the case of health care workers, organizations whose employees are not vaccinated could face a loss of Medicaid and Medicare funding.

Wyoming and 10 other states filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration’s proposed mandate for large employers earlier this month, challenging the administration’s ability to dictate to private companies and individuals.

“These legal actions are essential to stopping the unconstitutional mandates from the Biden administration,” Gordon said at the time.

The lawsuit was one of three the state filed to challenge Biden’s mandate. 

A second, filed Nov. 10, was filed against the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over its rule requiring health care workers to be vaccinated. The third, filed Oct. 29, challenges the administration’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors and federally contracted employees.

The legal action has been endorsed by Wyoming’s Legislature in the only bill to clear its recent seven-day special session.

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Gordon Proposes Budget $500 Million Below Current Levels

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is proposing a two-year budget for Wyoming that will reduce state spending by about $500 million while setting aside money for future financial woes, he announced Monday.

Gordon on Monday unveiled a proposed 2023-24 budget for the state’s “general fund” — its primary bank account to pay for operations — of $2.3 billion, a cut of about $500 million from his last biennial budget.

The proposed budget for the next biennium comes on the heels of spending cuts made necessary in the current budget because of declines in state mineral income and revenue drops linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gordon said he will look to use federal funds where possible to bolster the 2023-24 state budget, but added he will propose putting $454 million into reserves should the state face another unexpected drop in revenue.

“Last year we saw historic drops in revenue that required that we make really drastic cuts,” he said. “I propose investing $454 million … to prevent future draconian cuts.”

In addition to the regular budget which will be submitted to the Legislature for consideration during its budget session that begins in February, Gordon said he will submit a plan for the use of American Rescue Plan Act money to bolster state finances and help offset revenue losses.

Top priorities for spending in the next budget bill include building maintenance that was put off to reduce spending in the current budget and maintaining spending for the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges so they do not lose their accreditation, Gordon said.

“In some cases, further cuts cannot be made without compromising the state’s institutions,” he said. “For example, Wyoming’s ability to maintain its accreditation of its higher education institutions could be put in danger.”

Gordon also put an emphasis on bring the salaries paid the state’s employees to a level closer to existing market levels.

The state’s employees, on average, are paid 20% below market levels found in 2017, according to Kevin Hibbard, director of the state Budget Office.

Gordon said 38% of the state’s employees have taken on second jobs and 3% receive some form of public assistance.

The disparity between the pay for Wyoming employees and that of workers for neighboring states and in the private sector makes it difficult to attract and retain employees in state government, Gordon said.

As a result, he said he will work to move salaries for employees of all three government branches closer to market levels.

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Gordon Signs Special Session Bill That Pushes Back Against Vaccine Mandates

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon signed the one bill that made it through the recent Wyoming Legislature special session that proposes action in opposition to the federal vaccine mandate.

On Friday, Gordon signed HB1002, which prohibits state and local public entities from enforcing a federal mandate. However, it would not take effect until a federal court, in response to legal action, blocks the mandate.

The bill also provides $4 million to help those harmed physically or financially by the mandate take legal action against the federal government and expresses support for Wyoming taking legal action to halt the mandate.

Gordon noted that he had already committed to challenging President Joe Biden administration’s vaccine mandates in the courts prior to the special session being called.

He added while he appreciated the Legislature’s support through the bill, he was concerned about the cost to taxpayers of the special session.

“This bill confirms the Legislature’s support for the Executive branch’s previously-expressed determination to fight federal overreach in the courts,” Gordon said. “I thank the Legislature for recognizing their distinct constitutional responsibility as appropriators in forwarding resources to support this endeavor. The people of Wyoming can rest assured that this Governor will always be committed to protecting the constitutionally enumerated rights of Wyoming citizens.”

Wyoming has filed three separate legal actions to challenge the federal vaccine mandates, including a lawsuit against the Biden administration for imposing a vaccine mandate on federal contractors and federally contracted employees.

A second lawsuit challenges the Occupational Safety and Health Administration laws that require any worker for a company employing more than 100 people to get a vaccine or be tested regularly for coronavirus. The third asks a federal court to overturn the vaccine mandate on health care workers throughout the nation. 

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Wyoming Files Third Lawsuit Over Biden’s Vaccine Mandate

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming on Wednesday filed a third lawsuit aimed at stopping the federal coronavirus vaccine mandate proposed by President Joe Biden.

Gov. Mark Gordon announced that the state had joined nine others in challenging the portion of the mandate that would require vaccinations for health care workers.

“Wyoming continues to face a significant shortage of health care workers and this federal mandate will only exacerbate our health care staffing issues,” Gordon said in a statement. “This administration needs to understand that overreaching policies that force employees to choose between vaccination and termination negatively impact Wyoming communities, rural health care and residents of skilled nursing facilities.”

Biden earlier this year announced he planned to require federal employees, health care workers and workers at companies employing more than 100 people to either get the coronavirus vaccine or be tested regularly for the disease.

The mandate on health care workers will come in the form of rules from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Wyoming and the other states in October filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration seeking to halt the vaccine requirement for federal contractors and federally contracted employees. Earlier this month, the state joined in a second lawsuit against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration seeking to block the vaccination mandate for companies employing more than 100 people.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Missouri said the mandate could further reduce the ranks of health care workers in rural areas.

“Indeed, the circumstances in the Plaintiff States—facts that CMS, which skipped notice-and-comment rulemaking, did not fully consider—foreshadow an impending disaster in the healthcare industry,” it said. “By ignoring the facts on the ground and unreasonably dismissing concerns about workforce shortages, the CMS vaccine mandate jeopardizes the healthcare interests of rural Americans.”

The lawsuit asks the court to find the vaccine mandate as imposed by the CMS to be unconstitutional, voiding it and putting measures in place to prevent the agency from imposing any kind of vaccine mandate.

Other states involved in the lawsuit are Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota and New Hampshire.

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Wyoming Files Lawsuit Against Biden, Calls Mandate “Unconstitutional”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

On Friday, Wyoming and 10 other states filed a lawsuit to halt the emergency temporary standard for vaccines issued by President Joe Biden’s administration, Gov. Mark Gordon’s office announced.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is mandating vaccines on employees of private Wyoming businesses with over 100 employees. A petition for judicial review was filed in the U. S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday, and a motion for stay is expected to be filed early next week.

Additionally, Wyoming and several other states filed a motion for preliminary injunction in the previously filed suit against the Biden administration regarding vaccine mandates for federal contractors. The coalition of states is asking the court to stop the Biden administration from taking any action to implement or enforce the federal contractor vaccine mandate. 

“These legal actions are essential to stopping the unconstitutional mandates from the Biden Administration. This is a result of the hard work by our Attorney General,” Gordon said. “I thank General [Bridget] Hill and her team for their efforts to protect the rights of Wyoming citizens and her industries. We have been preparing for this battle and, as promised, we are now joined in the fight to protect our civil liberties. Rest assured I am committed to using every tool possible to oppose these unlawful federal policies.”

Friday’s lawsuit challenges the emergency temporary standard adopted by OSHA which requires private employers with 100 or more employees to mandate their employees get vaccinated or implement weekly testing and mask requirements.

Non-compliant businesses could potentially face steep fines.

According to Robin Sessions Cooley, director of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, a total of 106,462 individuals in Wyoming work for private and public employers with at least 100 employees, which means 41.7% of the total Wyoming workforce and 18.5% of the total population of Wyoming would be covered by the mandate.   

“This mandate is unconstitutional, unlawful, and unwise,” the petition stated. “The federal government lacks constitutional authority under its enumerated powers to issue this mandate, and its attempt to do so unconstitutionally infringes on the States’ powers expressly reserved by the 10th Amendment. OSHA also lacks statutory authority to issue this mandate, which it shoe-horned into statutes that govern workplace safety, and which were never intended to federalize public-health policy.”

The lawsuit is asking the court for an immediate stay pending judicial review.

The states in this suit are Missouri, Nebraska, Montana, Arizona, Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.  

“For over a century, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that policies on compulsory vaccination lie within the police powers of the States, and that ‘they are matters that do not ordinarily concern the national government.’ Until quite recently, the Biden Administration agreed,” the petition said. “The White House stated…that mandating vaccines is ‘not the role of the federal government.’ But on September 9, 2021, that position underwent a dramatic reversal.”

The details of the rules needed to put the mandate in place were released Thursday. 

Gordon’s announcement came two days after Wyoming’s Legislature completed its special session aimed at charting the state’s response to the mandates.

Of the 20 bills proposed for review during the session, only one won final approval. It would prohibit state and local public entities from enforcing a federal mandate, but it would not take effect until a federal court, in response to legal action, blocks the mandate.

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Wyoming To Sue Biden Administration on Friday Over Fed Vaccine Mandate

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming will join several other states in suing the federal government over the coronavirus vaccine mandate proposed by President Joe Biden, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Thursday.

Gordon said the state will file a lawsuit as soon as the rules to put Biden’s mandate in place are issued by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a move expected Friday.

“We have prepared for this moment and the attorney general has a strong legal strategy she developed with a coalition of other attorneys general,” Gordon said. “We cannot allow the rights of Wyoming citizens and her industries to be trampled by federal overreach.”

Biden’s proposal would require that all federal workers, health care employees and employees of companies with more than 100 people get the coronavirus vaccine or be tested regularly for the illness.

The details of the rules needed to put the mandate in place were released Thursday. 

Under the rules, companies affected by the mandate would have to make sure their employees are vaccinated by Jan. 4.

Wyoming has already challenged an executive order issued by Biden that mandated vaccines for federal contractors.

Gordon’s announcement came one day after Wyoming’s Legislature completed its special session aimed at charting the state’s response to the mandates.

Of the 20 bills proposed for review during the session, only one won final approval. It would prohibit state and local public entities from enforcing a federal mandate, but it would not take effect until a federal court, in response to legal action, blocks the mandate.

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Wyoming Joins 10-State Lawsuit To Halt Biden’s Vaccine Mandate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill has joined a 10-state coalition led by Missouri in filing a lawsuit against President Joe Biden’s administration for his proposed coronavirus vaccine mandates.

Gov. Mark Gordon’s office announced the move on Friday.

The lawsuit challenges the Biden administration’s use of federal procurement statutes to mandate vaccinations through Executive Order 14042

“This vaccine mandate for federal contractors is a clear example of the extreme federal overreach  that Wyoming must put an end to,” Gordon said in a prepared statement. “Today, as promised, we take action as a broad coalition of which General Hill is proud to be a part. We are committed to defend the interests of Wyoming’s people and protect them from further federal intrusion into our lives.”

The lawsuit incorporates 12 counts and alleges that the Sept. 9 executive order enacted by the Biden administration usurps the states’ police powers, usurps states’ rights in violation fo the U.S. Constitution, violates the Procurement Act, violates the Administrative Procedures Act, and is an unconstitutional exercise of spending power.  

Speaking about how the vaccine mandate violates the Procurement Act, the lawsuit states, “Far from increasing economy and efficiency in procurement, the contractor vaccine mandate will cause large-scale resignations of unvaccinated employees of federal contractors. These disruptive consequences will directly oppose both ‘economy’ and ‘efficiency’ of the marketplace.”

The lawsuit also takes issue with the scope of the mandate stating that, “On its face, the contractor vaccine mandate therefore applies to any employee of a contractor or subcontractor who is a party to a federal contract, even if the work they do is wholly unrelated to the contract, and even if it is not certain they will ever be working in a location with an employee who is actually working on a federal contract.”

In addition, the lawsuit states that the vaccine mandate is unconstitutional, arguing, “Defendants, through their vaccine mandate, have exercised power far beyond what was delegated to the federal government by constitutional mandate or congressional action. Neither Article II of the U.S. Constitution nor any act of Congress authorizes defendants to implement their vaccine mandate. The power to impose vaccine mandates, to the extent that any such power exists, is a power reserved to the States.” 

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the vaccine mandate unlawful and enjoin defendants from enforcing the vaccine mandate.

Joining Wyoming and Missouri in the lawsuit are attorneys general from Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota and South Dakota. 

Wyoming’s involvement in the lawsuit is part of a two-pronged approach taken by the state to battle the federal mandate.

The Legislature will continue its special session — the second prong — next week to review legislation aimed at reducing the impact of the mandate.

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Gordon Says Proposed Federal Vaccine Mandates Offensive To Wyoming

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Proposed federal mandates for coronavirus vaccinations are offensive to Wyoming residents and must be addressed, Gov. Mark Gordon said Tuesday.

Gordon, in welcoming comments to the Legislature as it convened for its 3-day special session, said the vaccination requirements proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden is a form of federal overreach that is opposed by Wyoming residents.

“It has been hard to stomach the increasingly aggressive license the Biden Administration has taken over the past few months to extend the federal government’s overreach into our lives,” Gordon said in his prepared comments. “This temerity is offensive to me, to you, to Wyoming citizens, and to the Constitution that enumerates our rights. It must be stopped.”

Legislators met Tuesday to begin the special session aimed at preparing Wyoming’s response to the proposed mandates, which would require federal employees, health care workers and workers for companies that employ 100 or more people.

Bills filed for consideration would take steps such as prohibiting employers from discriminating against those who have not been vaccinated or creating exemptions to the federal requirements.

Gordon referred to the administration’s mandate and the pending release of federal labor rules to put it in place as “blackmail.”

“I am incensed that the Biden administration would have the audacity to mandate that private employers require their employers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and find it unconscionable to threaten to withhold Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements unless mandates are enforced,” he said. “Using taxpayer dollars in an attempt to coerce compliance is nothing more than blackmail.”

Gordon said Attorney General Bridget Hill is working with other states to prepare for possible legal action against what he called federal overreach.

Gordon urged the Legislature to address proposed legislation quickly in charting the state’s response to the rules.

“I appreciate the challenges you have ahead of you to be both thoughtful and to act urgently with purpose and merit,” he said. “I look forward to seeing the fruits of your labor and will review them carefully and without prejudice, as is customary.”

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Gordon: Government Should Be Limited With As Few Regulations As Possible

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By Gov. Mark Gordon, guest columnist

Wyoming has always been about small government and limited regulations.  These are core values to me. I remember well my father working to protect Wyoming’s Right to Work laws.  Our family eagerly supported Malcolm Wallop’s successful Senate bid in 1976.  He was unshakeable in his conservatism and fought constantly against government overreach. In fact, one of the most memorable political ads of all time was Malcolm taking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to task for ridiculous regulations. It featured a puzzled cowboy preparing to head out on the range, and having to strap a portable toilet to a pack horse because of OSHA’s overregulation.  It was a great ad that highlighted wrongheaded regulations crafted in DC that lack awareness of what makes sense on the ground.

Big government is a cancer.  As a conservative Republican I have, and always will support the rights of private individuals and their rights as business owners to operate their enterprise as they see fit. We need fewer regulations, not more.  I oppose growing government interference.

As I write this, OSHA is preparing new rules that purport to shape how businesses must operate across the country. In this instance, it is a mandate that employers require that their employees get a COVID-19 vaccine. And there are other hair-brained ideas on the way, including those that would force health care facilities to require vaccinations in order to receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.  Holding our seniors and Medicaid recipients hostage is just plain wrong. 

This federal overreach is plainly unacceptable.  Let me be clear: Wyoming will use every means at our disposal to thwart these efforts to erode our rights. I have directed Wyoming’s Attorney General to work with other states to prepare for litigation once the vaccine mandate regulations are released. 

From the outset of this Biden threat, Legislative leadership and I have been aligned in our steadfast opposition to federal overreach.  Rest assured, we have heard similar sentiments from all corners of the state.  Together, we are working hard on behalf of Wyoming.  However, I will not support state over-reach into our private and business lives.

As chief executive of Wyoming, I’m acutely aware of the limits imposed on my office by our Constitution and the statutes passed by our Legislature.  Wyoming’s statutes do not provide the Governor with unlimited power.  For example, Wyoming’s brand of Executive Orders (EOs) do not give the Governor the same tools that the Texas Legislature has given their Governor. Because Wyoming’s Governor does not have statutory authority to enforce an EO similar to Texas’ Governor, I have not issued one. Frankly, I am not disappointed because I believe in my core that Wyomingites don’t want a supreme executive in the first place. Government must be held in check.

The Wyoming Legislature has the authority to call itself into session when they are so inclined.  Their process is not easy, and it isn’t meant to be.  Wyoming prides herself on a citizen legislature made up of men and women with jobs, businesses, and obligations that are not wholly political in nature.  We are blessed that we do not have a “political class” as found in New York, California, or Illinois.  Wyoming has avoided that pitfall by limiting the days that our Legislature can be in session, thereby assuring that our legislators continue their other work, and concentrate on politics as a service. 

The Legislature is following its process.  I look forward to continuing to work with them to see that we protect the rights of Wyoming individuals and businesses. It is, and always has been, a delicate balance.

Ultimately, I remain committed to conservative Republican principles: minimal government closest to the people, individual liberty, and the freedom to operate your business unconstrained from government mandates. I will always stand for the Constitution and the rule of law.  I was proud when former President Donald Trump recognized Wyoming’s limited regulations when I met with him at the White House in 2019. I continue to be proud of our state’s commitment to keep out of the business of our citizens and their businesses.

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Gordon Continues Preparation Of Legal Challenge Against Biden’s Vaccine Mandate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is continuing to prepare a legal challenge against President Joe Biden’s proposed vaccine mandate.

Gordon and Attorney General Bridget Hill are preparing Wyoming’s legal challenge to the mandate when they are finalized. However, the administration has not yet issued any specific policies that can be challenged in court.

“Four weeks ago, when the president issued his announcement regarding vaccine mandates, I immediately instructed Attorney General Hill to prepare for legal action to oppose this unconstitutional overreach,” Gordon said. “Attorney General Hill has begun that mission and is continuing to strengthen alliances, improve potential arguments, and consider appropriate strategies.”

In September, Biden announced that federal workers, health care workers and employees at companies that employ more than 100 people will have to be vaccinated against coronavirus or be tested for the illness weekly. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be responsible for levying fines against companies that do not comply with the mandate.

Gordon also noted that a joint letter from 24 attorneys general explained that the president’s call for a vaccine mandate is broad, inexact and uses a rarely-used provision in federal law that allows it to be effective immediately.

“This coalition of Attorneys General is well-prepared to fight the Biden administration in courts when the time is right, and I am committed to using every tool available to us to oppose federal rules, regulations, and standards whenever they overreach. We are prepared to act promptly once these mandates are finally issued,” Gordon said. “Wyoming will not stand idly by to see any erosion of the constitutional rights afforded our citizens and their industries.” 

As the state prepares for its legal battle with the federal government, Gordon stressed that as a conservative Republican, he stands for smaller government that is closest to the people.

“Government must resist the temptation to intrude in private sector interests,” Gordon said. “It is neither conservative nor Republican to replace one form of tyranny with another. Doing so is antithetical to our American form of government, even if it is for something we like. I will stand firm against unconstrained governmental overreach regardless of where or when it occurs.”

Wyoming legislative leadership has initiated a poll of members on whether they would hold a special session later this month to address the mandate.

Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, previously said it would likely be conducted via video conferencing instead of in-person as the cost savings would be significant.

Driskill previously told Cowboy State Daily that he envisioned a two- to three-day session where legislators would focus on strategies to fight the president’s mandate which would, in effect, force thousands of Wyoming workers to receive a COVID vaccine or be fired.

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Gordon Says Different Approach Needed At U.S-Mexico Border Following Visit

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By Robert Davis, The Center Square

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon says a “different approach is needed” to solve the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border following his visit there with other Republican governors.

“Wyoming citizens are impacted by a failure of the Biden administration to engage in its constitutional duty to secure our border,” Gordon said in a press release. “Seeing the conditions and hearing firsthand from agents on the ground made it clear that a different approach is needed and more resources are necessary to secure our border from drug trafficking and human smuggling.”

Gordon was among the 11 Republican governors to meet Wednesday at the border in Texas to demand action from the Biden administration.

The governor has been an outspoken critic of the administration’s immigration policies since the president took office. Gordon joined 25 other GOP governors recently in sending a letter requesting a meeting with President Biden on the matter. However, the president never responded to their meeting request, according to the governors.

The 26-member coalition also set forth a 10-point plan to address the immigration issues. Known as the Joint Policy Framework on the Border Crisis, the document calls for the federal government to refuse entry to immigrants to stop the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the flow of illegal drugs into the country.

Gorgon said that Border Patrol agents mentioned during the visit that cartels have been taking advantage of federal policies and dominate the drug and human trafficking markets.

Data from the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation shows a significant increase in the amount of fentanyl seized inside state borders.

According to Customs and Border Patrol data, the number of seizures at the southern border has increased 500% since August 2020.

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Governor Orders Wyoming Flag Flown at Half Staff to Honor Casper Police Officer

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Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon has ordered the Wyoming State Flag be flown at half staff at the Capitol in Cheyenne and in Natrona County from sunrise to sunset on Monday, October 4, 2021 in honor and memory of Casper Police Lt. Dan Dundas. 

Lt. Dundas began his career at the Casper Police Department in 2008 and was honored as CPD Officer of the Year in 2011 and Sergeant of the Year in 2015. He was awarded the Life-Saving Medal, the Distinguished Service Medal and the Police Service Cross with combat distinction. Dundas died on September 27, 2021. 

“Jennie and I extend our deepest sympathies to the Casper community and the family and friends of Lt. Dundas,” Governor Gordon said. “This tragedy reminds us how important it is to acknowledge the emotional toll that working as a first responder can have. We have a responsibility to provide mental health support and resources to those serving and protecting Wyoming citizens.”

The Casper Police Department announced on Wednesday that officers have been in close contact with the Dundas family to help any way they could.

The department also announced it would treat the death as incurred as a result of line-of-duty actions.

“Though our hearts are broken, we choose to acknowledge the difficult nature of the profession to which Danny had, with his characteristic gusto and larger-than-life personality, diligently dedicated himself,” a spokesperson said.

A public memorial service is scheduled for Monday, October 4 at 4 pm at Casper’s Ford Wyoming Center. 

Please note that this notice is only for the Wyoming State Flag and only at two locations in the state – at the Capitol Building and in Natrona County. Other flags should remain at full-staff.

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Wyoming Truckers Allowed Increased Drive Time To Deliver Hay During Drought

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Four extra driving hours in a day makes a heck of a big difference to a truck driver, particularly when hauling hay in the middle of a drought to farmers and ranchers who desperately need it.

Truckers are praising Gov. Mark Gordon’s decision to sign an emergency executive order allowing those hauling oversized loads of hay to drive for two extra hours before sunrise and two hours after sunset.

Similar executive orders have already been issued in Montana and North and South Dakota, which was the impetus for the governor’s decision to extend hours for these transporters, according to Michael Pearlman, communications director for the governor’s office. 

Wyoming House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, approached Gordon to ask about the order after hearing concerns from ag producers in Campbell County. Barlow had received a message from one of his constituents about the executive order recently signed by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem extending allowable travel hours for hay transporters, wondering if Wyoming could do the same. 

Barlow said he thought it sounded like a great idea and reached out to Gordon, who contacted Doug Miyamoto, director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, who agreed there was a need to extend hours. The executive order was welcomed by John Robertson, principle of J.D. Robertson Transport LLC in Rozet.

The additional driving hours will be a huge benefit to both truckers and ag producers, Robertson said, who have been hit hard by severe drought and record-high hay prices of up to $250 to $300 a ton, nearly double the cost over past year. 

Most of Robertson’s hay loads come out of the Dakotas or Nebraska, and prior to the signing of the executive order, he and other drivers had to shut down in Belle Fourche, South Dakota, or another neighboring city to remain in compliance with restrictions on the hours oversized loads can be on the road.

This meant careful planning on the part of the driver to arrange his or her day, including find a place to sleep that night, which isn’t easy with oversized loads.

As Robertson said, it’s not easy to compete with tourists in travel trailers and other truckers for spots at Flying J’s and other truck stops.

“Oversized loads don’t work there because of the tight parking,” he said. “The places are designed for legal loads. We have to find places along the road or at sale barns and grain elevators. You have to know the lay of the land and what you’re doing.”

The shorter hours also cut into profits for drivers. Robertson estimated the cost at about $100 an hour, which translated to higher prices for hay buyers. 

The extra four hours of travel time will not only make hauling loads worthwhile, Robertson noted, but will also help move hay in peak crunch time for producers in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) who have to adhere deadlines for clearing fields.

“Right now, everyone is in a crunch,” Robertson said. “These extra hours are really going to help.”

Qualifying loads can be up to 12 feet wide and 15 feet tall and drivers have to abide by weight limits and all other rules for oversized loads. The order is set to expire on Nov. 30.

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Gordon Deploys National Guard To Provide Hospital Assistance Across 17 Wyoming Cities

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is activating the Wyoming National Guard to temporarily assist with local hospitals due to a high number of COVID patients.

As of Monday, there were 202 COVID patients hospitalized across the state, according to Wyoming’s hospitalization tracker.

Gordon has called approximately 95 soldiers and airmen to active duty, assigning them to hospital facilities at 24 different sites within 17 Wyoming cities.

They will assist hospital and Wyoming Department of Health staff to help ease workloads imposed upon them due to large numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations, Gordon said.

“I am grateful to the members of our Wyoming National Guard for once again answering the call to provide assistance in our hospitals during this surge,” he said. “Our Guard members truly are Wyoming’s sword and shield, and their commitment to our state is something for which every Wyoming citizen can be thankful.”

Guard members’ responsibilities will include: assisting in environmental cleanup in hospital facilities; food and nutrition service; COVID-19 screening; managing personal protective equipment supplies and other support tasks.

Some will also be trained to administer COVID-19 tests.

“The Delta variant has overwhelmed the medical institutions of states across this country.  Our state is no different with most hospitals at or near capacity,” said Col. David Pritchett, director of the joint staff for the Wyoming National Guard. “The Soldiers and Airmen of the Wyoming National Guard are proud to jump back in to provide much needed assistance to our communities as we continue to battle the effects of COVID-19.”

The orders for guardsmen will be 14-30 day rotations, with the potential to extend beyond that, up until Dec. 31. The numbers and locations of guardsmen may change based on hospital needs.

This is the second time the governor has activated the National Guard to help with strained Wyoming hospitals. In November, when Wyoming had record levels of COVID patients, Gordon deployed the guard to the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center to assist hospital staff.

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Gordon Optimistic Grizzlies Will Be Removed From Endangered Species Act

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming will try once again to gain the authority to manage the grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Gov. Mark Gordon said Thursday he is confident the federal government will side with the state.

Referring several times to the catchphrase “Follow the science” used frequently by the Biden administration, Gordon announced during a news conference the state is filing a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to win the right to manage the bears inside its borders.

“I am optimistic,” he said. “If this administration, which continues to talk about the science and how we need to follow the science, Wyoming has the very best science so I’ll take them at their word.”

During his news conference, Gordon said the state will submit a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking for Yellowstone grizzlies to be removed from the endangered species list, clearing the way for state management of the animals. The Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to issue a recommendation on the petition and then will have a full year to make a decision on the request.

Grizzly bears were removed briefly from the endangered species list in 2017, but a federal judge ordered them to be returned to the list, returning management of the animals to the federal government.

Agreement

There is agreement between the state and federal government on some of the requirements to remove the bears from the list.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does consider Yellowstone’s grizzlies “biologically recovered,” with the bear’s population meeting recovery goals in 2003.

Today, estimates set the number of grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem at more than 1,000 — which is nearly 10 times what it was when the bear was first listed under the Endangered Species Act.

And this doesn’t count the number of bears outside of the area, which is believed to be significant. 

The push for delisting has been ongoing for years.

In 2015, President Obama’s Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said he was in favor of it.

Two years later, delisting did occur under the Trump administration, but only briefly. The courts intervened, relisted the animal, and management authority went back to the federal government.

Changes

Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik said the State of Wyoming has addressed the concerns expressed by the court in its 2017 ruling, giving him confidence the State will be victorious.

“We were very, very close to the finish line [in 2017],” Nesvik said. “I think if we make these changes, I’m optimistic that once they evaluate the petition based on science and its merits, that we will prevail.”

Those changes, according to a release from the governor’s office, include:

  • Amending grizzly bear management policies that will adjust the annual management and mortality targets.
  • Using the updated population model now adopted by grizzly bear experts.
  • Ensuring the bear’s long-term genetic health and and providing for translocation of bears into the population, as needed to maintain genetic diversity.

Geography

The third point, however, does not mean other parts of Wyoming could see a reintroduction of the grizzly. 

Nesvik said only the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is large enough to sustain the population.

“Frankly, there’s really not a lot of other places where grizzly bears could do well and be successful because of other uses,” he said pointing to the Big Horn mountains as an example.

Because of the agricultural and recreational interests, there’s not enough space there, he said, that would keep the grizzly “out of trouble.”

“Grizzly bears need large tracts of unroaded areas, without a lot of other use in order to be successful. If they get close to those other kind of human uses, they find themselves in trouble,” he said.

That trouble can lead to death, Nesvik said stating that the department has had to kill up to 35 grizzlies per year.

Management

Through sound management practices, including hunting, the grizzly population can be managed at a sustainable level and fewer negative interactions with humans would likely occur, he said.

Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich praised the governor on Thursday.

“I applaud the governor for his actions today,” Ulrich said. “The grizzly has successfully rebounded to the point where they are encroaching on areas that just can’t handle it. I wouldn’t be surprised if grizzlies will be roaming the streets of Pinedale soon if we don’t manage them correctly.”

Others weren’t as supportive. Award-winning wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen told the Casper Star Tribune if delisting occurs, a legal battle would probably result.

“We’ll fight it again, just like we have the last two or three times,” he said. “It’s just frustrating that we keep going through this,” he said.

Federal Support

The governor has a lot of support in Washington. Members of the congressional delegations from Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho are in favor of the move — even on the Democratic side.

Back in April, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, told Montana Public Radio, “The grizzly populations in Yellowstone and the Northern Continental Divide are recovered, and the folks at Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks have shown they are more than capable of managing the Yellowstone grizzlies.”

Wyoming’s delegation — U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, are also unanimous in their support of removing the grizzly from the endangered species at.

Cheney introduced legislation called the “Grizzly Bear State Management Act of 2021,” which would empower states to manage their grizzly populations based on science. Barrasso and Lummis have offered the same legislation in the Senate.

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Gordon Mourns Loss of the 8 UW Athletes Killed By a Drunk Driver 20 Years Ago

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Before traveling to Gillette on Thursday to participate in a memorial for eight University of Wyoming athletes killed by a drunk driver 20 years ago, Gov. Mark Gordon mentioned he had a personal connection to one of the students.

At the end of a press conference before departing, Gordon said his son competed against a brother of one of the athletes who perished in the accident on U.S. Highway 287 between Laramie and Fort Collins, Colorado.

“My son wrestled against one of the Shatto brothers,” he said, referring to Shane Shatto, a Douglas native who was 19 when he was killed.  “Obviously, my heart has been heavy today with that loss.”

Gordon said the fact that 20 years later the accident still resonates so freshly in the minds of Wyoming citizens is “confirmation of Wyoming being a town with very long streets.”

“We should never forget how important it is that we drive sober,” Gordon said. “This was a remarkable group of young people. So we are joining with the rest of Wyoming today in remembering that awful day.”

The eight cross-country runners were killed in the early morning hours of Sept. 16, 2001. The car the group was riding in from Fort Collins back to Laramie was struck head-on by a pickup truck driven by Clinton Haskins, also a UW student, about 17 miles south of Laramie on the highway.

Killed in the accident were Nick Schabron and Joshua Jones of Laramie, Kyle Johnson of Riverton, Morgan McLeland of Gillette, Shane Shatto of Douglas, Kevin Salverson of Cheyenne, Cody Brown of Hudson, Colorado, and Canadian Justin Lambert-Belanger of Timmons, Ontario.

Gordon was to speak Thursday at the “Memory of the 8” event in Gillette — an annual eight-mile run followed by a dinner to remember the fallen students.

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Gordon To Memorialize Eight UW Students Killed In Crash 20 Years Ago

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon will speak at a Gillette event this week honoring the memory of eight University of Wyoming students killed in a car crash 20 years ago.

Gordon will be taking part in the “Memory of the 8” event to be held Thursday.

The eight cross-country runners were killed in the early morning hours of Sept. 16, 2001. The car the group was riding in from Fort Collins, Colorado, back to Laramie was struck head-on by a pickup truck driven by Clinton Haskins, also a UW student, about 17 miles south of Laramie on U.S. Highway 287.

“The governor is attending to honor the memory of these students, whose lives were cut short by this tragedy,” Gordon spokesman Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “He also recognizes the importance of this event to the families and wants to show his support for their work in preserving their memory.”

Pearlman noted that Gordon also wants to support the efforts of the Governor’s Council on Impaired Driving, which was started under former Gov. Matt Mead’s administration.

Killed in the accident were Nick Schabron and Joshua Jones of Laramie, Kyle Johnson of Riverton, Morgan McLeland of Gillette, Shane Shatto of Douglas, Kevin Salverson of Cheyenne, Cody Brown of Hudson, Colorado, and Canadian Justin Lambert-Belanger of Timmons, Ontario.

Haskins, who was a member of the UW rodeo team, crossed the highway in his Chevy and hit Schabron’s vehicle, killing all eight of the men inside. Haskins was the only person who survived the crash, and his blood-alcohol content was 0.16%. At the time, under Wyoming law, anyone with a blood-alcohol content of 0.1% was considered intoxicated.

He was sentenced to 14 to 20 years for eight counts vehicular homicide and was released in 2011.

A similar situation occurred earlier this year on U.S. Highway 287, when three UW students were killed in an accident several miles south of the Wyoming/Colorado state line.

The students killed were: Sienna Potter, 18, a first-year student in early childhood education who attended high school outside of London but had family in Laramie; Rebecca Marley, 19, a first-year student in marketing who attended high school in Dubai and had family in The Woodlands, Texas; and William Malone, 21, a senior in computer science from Fort Collins, Colorado.

Two other UW students were injured in the crash. 

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Gordon Prepares For Two-Prong Attack On Biden Mandate

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is preparing for both legislative and legal action to block the vaccination mandate issued last week by President Joe Biden, he announced Wednesday.

Gordon said he has advised Attorney General Bridget Hill to begin preparing a lawsuit to stop the mandate as it applies to private employers and has also started talking with legislators about holding a special legislative session, if necessary, to address the federal order.

“We cannot sit on our hands just watching this egregious example of federal government overreach,” Gordon said in a statement. “We are already communicating with other governors and states to prepare legal options once emergency standards are issued.”

The need for a special legislative session will be determined by the nature of the federal rules adopted to put the mandate in place, Gordon said.

“If there is a need and ability for the Legislature to respond to the emergency standards, specific bills and the rules for the session will be drafted,” the statement said.

Biden last week issued a mandate requiring that all federal employees, health care workers and workers at companies employing more than 100 people either get the coronavirus vaccine or be tested weekly for the illness.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration would enforce the mandate for private businesses through fines that would be levied against those that fail to comply.

Gordon said if a special legislative session is called, it could be held as soon as October and would focus only on addressing the emergency standards to be handed down by the Biden administration.

“Wyoming is a conservative state with a constitution designed to constrain the actions of government, so special sessions are meant to be very rare,” he said “They cost taxpayer money, so they should never be frivolous. That is why legislative leadership and I will work together to ensure any potential special session held to respond to vaccine mandates will be focused, effective and efficient.”

Senate Vice President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that if a special session is called, the Legislature will probably examine several ways to deal with the mandates.

Among other actions, the Legislature may decide to use federal COVID relief funds to pay the fines of companies that do not comply with the mandates or provide unemployment benefits for workers who lose their jobs, Driskill said.

Driskill also suggested the state may order its own OSHA office to ignore the federal mandates.

Gordon said all possibilities must be thoroughly examined.

“This is not a fire, ready aim moment,” he said. “We must be smart, thoughtful and effective in the way we respond to these overreaching efforts by the Biden administration.”

Gordon said while he agrees that the vaccines are an important tool for ending the pandemic, he does not believe the Biden administration should order their use.

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Gordon Blasts Biden’s Vaccine Mandate: “This Has No Place in America”

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Gov Mark Gordon on Thursday blasted President Joe Biden’s sweeping vaccine mandate as un-American and has asked his attorney general to fight it.

“I have asked the Attorney General to stand prepared to take all actions to oppose this administration’s unconstitutional overreach of executive power. It has no place in America. Not now, and not ever,” Gordon said in a statement.

On Thursday, President Biden announced his administration was enacting rules that would mandate all employers with more than 100 workers to get vaccinated for COVID-19 or be tested weekly for the virus.

The mandate could affect as many as 100 million Americans.

“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” Biden said in the press conference. The unvaccinated minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

“We are in the tough stretch and it could last for a while,” he said.

Gordon said Thursday’s announcement was an example of “big government overreach” and questioned the constitutionality of the rules.

“Our Constitution was written and fought for to protect our liberties as American citizens,” he said.  “This administration’s latest pronouncement demonstrates its complete disregard for the rule of law and freedoms individuals and private companies enjoy under our Constitution. In Wyoming, we believe that government must be held in check.”

State Rep. Landon Brown told Cowboy State Daily that he concurs with Gov. Gordon’s sentiments and said he encouraged the the governor’s office to take “any and all action to protect Wyoming’s businesses’ rights.”

“This federal government overreach is inexcusable and we should not stand for it,” Brown said. “Government should not be dictating business practices like this.”

Carbon County Republican Party chair Joey Correnti told Cowboy State Daily that although he hasn’t read Biden’s vaccine “action plan” yet, he was completely opposed to “anything that has mandate in the title.”

“The problem with the way Biden is doing things is that it’s an emotion and an intention with a title, none of it is quantified on paper,” he said, comparing it to the administration’s controversial “30 by 30” environmental plan.

“The Biden administration on almost every policy has been vague or not totally forthcoming on the full content on any of their emotional plans which are destroying America,” he said.

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Gordon Allocates $30 Million To Help With Health Care Staffing Issues

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is allocating $30 million in federal funds to provide staffing relief and support for current health care staff and to secure traveling medical staff.

Gordon’s office announced the move on Wednesday, saying this was his way to address staffing challenges at Wyoming health care facilities amidst a surge in COVID cases and hospitalizations.

“Wyoming’s healthcare system and healthcare workers, in every community are feeling the strain of this surge,” Gordon said. “We need to recognize our healthcare workers’ commitment to caring for our neighbors during the pandemic. They are working extra-long hours and at times having to cover for sick colleagues. These are very stressful times for all of us, but particularly those in the healthcare industry. This is a means to thank them and to try to make sure we can keep them on the job.”

The governor has allocated the $20 million to be used by facilities on a discretionary basis to stabilize staffing levels. The funding is available to fill staffing shortages, provide hazard pay, and strengthen recruitment efforts for the state’s existing healthcare workforce.

The additional $10 million will be available to privately-owned Wyoming hospitals and long-term care facilities for traveling medical staff through a contract with the Wyoming Hospital Association.

Nonprofit and county-owned hospitals that have secured their own traveling medical staff will continue to be eligible for 100% reimbursement through FEMA funding.

The governor will pursue additional options to support healthcare providers during the surge, including the utilization of Wyoming National Guard members as needed.

As of Tuesday, Wyoming hospitals reported a total of 230 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, nearly as many as were hospitalized during the peak of the last surge in November.

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Gordon Reiterates No Mask Mandate; Local Control Best Option

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By Ellen Fike and Tom Ninnemann, Cowboy State Daily

Local government officials are the best leaders when it comes to making decisions about the coronavirus in Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon told a group in Jackson on Tuesday.

Gordon appeared at the Teton County Library on Tuesday as a part of the library’s Teton County Centennial series, where he started his comments by addressing the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

As of Tuesday, the state had more than 3,400 active cases and 195 people hospitalized for treatment.

However, Gordon has steadfastly refused to implement a second statewide mandate for the use of facemasks and he told his Jackson audience Tuesday he feels it is better to let local governments, rather than his administration, make decisions regarding how their communities should handle the the pandemic.

“We don’t believe that mandates from on high work,” he said. “We do think local control, local government is where the nexus lies. Those are locally-elected people, they’re your communities. They can appreciate the circumstances at a local level in a way that we find from on top can’t happen.”

He did note that his office will work to make sure the state’s communities have adequate supplies of vaccines, personal protective equipment and COVID tests.

Currently, only Teton County has implemented a countywide mask mandate, which came late last week after a rise in cases both in the county and state.

The mandate for Jackson was extended until December by the Jackson Town Council in a special meeting Monday. The Teton County Board of Commissioners will meet later this week to discuss extending the life of the mandate in the county outside of Jackson.

Gordon said that while he respected Wyoming residents’ freedom to choose, he also said residents know what they need to do to slow the spread of the virus — wash their hands, wear facemasks and practice social distancing.

“In this environment, I think it is extremely important that we recognize we are a community and what we do together can be very successful in defeating the virus,” he said.

Gordon also addressed the record tourism year being seen in northwestern Wyoming, saying the state is looking at ways to control visitation without imposing a permitting system to limit the number of visitors in one area.

“I think that there are some ways that we can look at how we can manage the number of visitors that come through Jackson, come through our parks, and do that without imposing some sort of permitting system,” he said. “Do that in a way that doesn’t hamper the freedom of people wanting to come visit.”

If visitors can be convinced to see areas other than Jackson and Yellowstone National Park, it might ease the burden on those areas, Gordon said.

“So if people come and they want to see the oldest national park, on their way if they could stop and see, perhaps a hot springs, perhaps some of the wonderful soft terrain that we see elsewhere in the state,” he said. “We need to encourage that. We need to be able to make sure that visitor see how friendly people in Wyoming are and how great our communities are.”

The governor also touched on the drought that has gripped the West this year, noting that for the first time ever, water has been pulled from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir to supply downstream users on the Colorado River system.

“For the first time, Flaming Gorge level will diminish this year and probably will diminish more next year if we don’t have recharge of snow, rain, etc.,” he said.

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Gordon Says Interior Dragging Feet On Mineral Leases

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The U.S. Department of the Interior is dragging its feet in complying with a federal court ruling for it to resume mineral leasing on federal lands, according to Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon on Wednesday issued a statement criticizing the Interior Department for its response to a federal court judge in Louisiana who ruled against the halt on mineral leasing imposed by the administration of President Joe Biden.

“Wyoming does not believe that Interior is following either the letter or the spirit of the court’s ruling and certainly continues to violate the law,” Gordon said. “Interior has only committed to move forward with preliminary scoping for the past canceled lease sales, an action that should have occurred long ago.”

“It’s the governor’s belief that Interior is doing the minimum amount necessary to meet the court order,” said Michael Pearlman, a spokesman for Gordon.

A federal judge in June ruled that the Interior Department did not follow its own rules when it imposed a halt on oil and gas leasing on federal lands.

Because the ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the state of Louisiana against the Biden administration, it applies only to federal lands in Louisiana, but officials in other states, including Wyoming, have said it could set precedent as other judges review challenges to the halt.

The Interior Department, which is appealing the judge’s ruling, has filed documents showing what steps it will take next to comply with the ruling and resume leases.

But Gordon said it is obvious the Interior Department is doing the minimum amount of work to resume lease sales.

“From these actions it is clear that Interior has no intention of conducting a lease sale at all this year,” he said. “That is unacceptable and unlawful.”

The delays appear to be the result of an effort by the Biden administration to complete its appeal of the ruling before being forced to resume lease sales, Gordon said.

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Gordon Calls Wyoming’s Low Vaccination Rate “Disappointing”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s ranking as the state with the lowest percentage of its population vaccinated against the coronavirus is “disappointing,” a spokesman for Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.

Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily that the low vaccination rate in Wyoming was likely due to a number of factors, including its largely rural population and the fact that in small communinties, people have seen fewer health impacts from the coronavirus among their friends and neighbors than in the state’s cities.

He also noted there has also been misinformation circulating about the effectiveness and safety of the COVID vaccines.

“On the positive side, Wyoming has seen an increase in the number of vaccinations given since July 4,” Pearlman said. “Each day, more Wyomingites are getting vaccinated. We are hopeful that full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine for people 16 and over will encourage more Wyomingites to choose vaccination.”

Gordon continues to believe vaccination will help keep the state’s businesses and schools open.

“He believes the science is clear that vaccination reduces the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19,” Pearlman said. “He knows that vaccination provides protection for individuals and their loved ones; can help ensure healthcare access remains available for all Wyomingites; that our schools remain open and our economy remains healthy..

Pearlman added that Gordon is also encouraging people to get the vaccine, but like U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, he believes vaccination is a personal choice based on certain circumstances.

According to the CDC, Wyoming had 201,863 unvaccinated adults, 45.36% of its population, the highest rate of unvaccinated people in the country.

West Virginia and Mississippi each owned the distinction of having the highest share of unvaccinated residents in the nation for months until Wyoming recently surpassed each state.

West Virginia is in 49th place with 44.36% of its citizens being unvaccinated while Mississippi is next at 44.20%.

Texas actually had the highest number of unvaccinated adults, with 6.6 million, but that amounted to only 30.8% of its population.

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Gordon Says He Strongly Opposes Federal Vaccine Mandates

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is joining one of his Republican colleagues in voicing opposition to any potential federal vaccine mandates.

Through a spokesman, Gordon told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that any sweeping vaccine mandates would be overreach by the federal government.

“The governor has consistently opposed government vaccine mandates,” spokesman Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.

“A sweeping vaccine mandate would be an example of overreach by the federal government and shows a lack of regard for both individual rights and local control. The governor strongly opposes such actions,” he said.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Monday said she would fight President Joe Biden’s administration in the event he implemented a federal mandate.

“If President Biden illegally mandates vaccines, I will take every action available under the law to protect South Dakotans from the federal government,” Noem said on her social media account on Monday afternoon.

Montana has banned vaccine mandates for employment, saying it is discrimination, according to the Associated Press.

Wyoming health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist reaffirmed in a statement on Monday that there would be no vaccine mandates for Wyoming students returning to school, something Gordon told news reporters last week during a call.

“While there will be no state vaccine mandate in Wyoming, we know promoting vaccination among eligible students, school staff, family members and throughout our communities can help schools stay open and vibrant as well as help keep students and their teachers in the classroom,” Harrist said. “An additional benefit to COVID-19 vaccination is that individuals who are fully vaccinated and identified as close contacts do not need to quarantine, which can be helpful in the school setting.”

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Ceremony to Recognize 20th Anniversary of 9/11 At Wyoming State Capitol

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Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon announced on Tuesday that he will join the Wyoming Veterans Commission on behalf of the Wyoming Military Department and other state and local agencies to hold a wreath-laying ceremony on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The event will honor the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that took the lives of 2,997 men, women and children.

“Twenty years after that devastating day that every American who was alive that day remembers, we witnessed the American People’s resolve and the best of our spirit even in a time of tragedy,” Gordon said.

“We remember that day and honor all those who sacrificed so much, who answered the call, and who continue to ensure the world remembers there is no better friend, no worse enemy than the people of the United States of America. It is right that we honor all those this day and that in so doing we can affirm that all that day cost us has not been in vain.”

The ceremony will begin at 6:30 a.m. at the State Capitol and is open to the public. Governor Gordon will join the Adjutant General MG Greg Porter and Wyoming Office of Homeland Security Director Lynn Budd for the ceremony. Recognition of wreaths will begin at approximately 7:40.

“This event will preserve the memories of the lives lost and serve as remembrance of those who responded to this awful act of terrorism,” Tim Sheppard, Wyoming Veterans Commission Director said. “We vowed to never forget, and on this day we will remember.”

Moments of silence will be held to coincide with the timing of American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 hitting the north and south towers of the World Trade Center; American Airlines Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon; and the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The ceremony will include performances from the Cheyenne All-City Children’s Chorus and the Wyoming Fire Service Combined Pipes and Drums from Casper Fire-EMS Department and the Lander Fire Department. The Wyoming Highway Patrol will post colors.

Organizations wanting to place a wreath for the ceremony, or those seeking additional information should contact the Wyoming Veterans Commission at 777-8152 by Thursday, September 9.

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Gordon ‘Not Interested’ In Accepting Afghan Refugees Into Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike

Gov. Mark Gordon “has no interest” in accepting Afghan refugees into Wyoming, his spokesman told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.

Unlike many of his colleagues, Gordon is not volunteering Wyoming as a safe haven for refugees fleeing Afghanistan after the Taliban overthrew the government last weekend.

“Our office has not been contacted by any federal or international officials about bringing in Afghan refugees and the governor has no interest in accepting refugees,” spokesman Michael Pearlman said. ” Please note that Wyoming currently does not have a state-administered refugee resettlement program.”

Other Western governors including Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis have written President Joe Biden to let him know they are willing to help refugees in any way.

“I’m deeply saddened by the human tragedy currently unfolding in Afghanistan,” Cox wrote. “I recognize Utah plays no direct role in shaping U.S. diplomatic or military policy, but we have a long history of welcoming refugees from around the world and helping them restart their lives in a new country,” Cox wrote in his letter.

Polis said Colorado stood ready to provide safety and opportunity to Afghan refugees.

“Our veteran community knows the value of the role these Afghans played overseas, and our greater Colorado community shares with you American values of humanitarianism and compassion,” Polis said. “Colorado stands ready. Please advise on how Colorado can assist.”

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said that she is open to to the idea of accepting refugees who can be vetted, particularly those who served alongside the United States military over the duration of the 20-year war. However, she added she does not have much faith in the Biden administration to accurately review the backgrounds of refugees.

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Gordon: No Mask, Vaccine Mandates Coming From My Office

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No new requirements for the use of facemasks will be coming from the office of Gov. Mark Gordon despite the recent spike in active coronavirus cases, he said Monday.

Gordon, speaking during a media conference Monday, repeated statements that he will leave it to local government entities to decide whether a mask mandate is necessary.

“Let me be clear, we will not issue any mandates, no mandates will come from this office,” Gordon told reporters. “This has been my stance and we have not wavered from it.” Gordon issued a mask mandate in early December and rescinded it in mid-March, although he allowed cities and counties to adopt their own mask mandates.

This, he said on Monday, would be the case again: cities, counties and school districts would have free will to implement mask mandates. The University of Wyoming last week approved a mandate that would require students to wear masks until at least Sept. 20. There will also be no business lockdowns, such as what was seen early in the pandemic in March of last year.

Many Wyoming businesses, including restaurants, hair salons, gyms and more, were closed until May to some extent due to the virus. While some businesses and organizations have implemented vaccine incentives, such as the city of Cheyenne and the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, there has been no incentive program created on a statewide level. 

As of Monday, Wyoming had 2,083 active COVID-19 cases and 112 COVID-related hospitalizations. Gordon said his office is in regular communication with state health officer Alexia Harrist and the Wyoming Department of Health about making health recommendations, rather than mandates. 

“I think it’s advisable to wear masks, but there are those who feel very strongly that masks are not the appropriate measure to take,” he said. 

However, Gordon did once again encourage Wyoming residents to get vaccinated against the virus. Around 34% of the state has been fully vaccinated, with Teton County having the highest rate, at 70.8%. 

“Wyoming is the state where we respect our responsibilities,” the governor said. “People in Wyoming should be aware our employment situation is fragile everywhere you go…so the more we can get COVID under control, the better our chances of keeping our economy without the impacts of people going home because they’re sick.” 

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Gordon Tells Lincoln County Republicans That He Won’t Shut Down State Again

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Despite a growing number of active coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across the state, Gov. Mark Gordon won’t shut down the state again, he told the Lincoln County Republican Party this week.

According to a social media post from the Lincoln County group, Gordon stopped in Afton this week for a meet-and-greet with members. During their meeting, he said he had no intention of shutting down the state again.

While the governor might not be implementing statewide health restrictions, many organizations across Wyoming are asking people to mask up again due to the continued spread of the Delta variant of the virus.

For example, the University of Wyoming will implement a mask mandate until at least Sept. 20.

All state health mandates officially ended May 31, when the final order for K-12 students across the state to wear masks while in school expired.

Wyoming had a relatively shorter shutdown than most states in the nation last year, with businesses being closed from mid-March until early May, although some restrictions were still in place, such as limiting groups to no more than 10 people.

As of Wednesday, the state had more than 1,800 active coronavirus cases and 102 people hospitalized due to the virus. Wyoming has not had more than 100 patients hospitalized since mid-January.

Wyoming’s coronavirus vaccination rate is just under 34%.

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Gordon Won’t Issue Another Mask Mandate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon will not issue another statewide mask mandate and won’t require Wyoming school districts to implement one, either, he announced Wednesday.

Gordon said he is standing behind the authority of local school districts to make their own decisions about how students can return to the classroom safely.

“Wyoming was first in the nation in having a safe and successful in-person school year last year,” Gordon said. “My focus is on supporting local school boards as they take into account conditions in their community and work to assure students learn safely this year too.”

Gordon will work with the Wyoming Department of Education and the Department of Health to ensure all districts are prepared to respond to changes in local coronavirus conditions with equipment, testing and expertise.

Gordon and First Lady Jennie Gordon have both been vaccinated and encourage eligible Wyomingites to choose to be vaccinated to protect themselves, their neighbors and their families.

“As our hospitals continue to see more COVID-19 hospitalizations, and as long-term and child care facilities are forced to close due to COVID-19 infections, it is time to remember all the things we learned last year and consider getting vaccinated as the most effective way to protect yourself against severe illness,” Gordon said. “And let us not forget the Wyoming way and work to be kind to one another.”

Gordon also supported the rights of private businesses to operate in the manner they deem best. In May, he issued a directive preventing state agencies, boards and commissions from requiring “vaccine passports” to access state services and spaces.

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Wyoming Joins Pro-Life Lawsuit With 24 Other States

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon announced today that the state of Wyoming has joined the Texas and 23 other states in filing an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the decision to regulate elective abortions should be left to states.

That brief was filed in support of Mississippi in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health.

In the case, Mississippi challenges lower court rulings that deemed unconstitutional the state’s “Gestational Age Act,” which prohibits elective abortions at 15 weeks’ gestation. Mississippi asks the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn past rulings which protected abortion as a constitutional right, subjecting state regulations on abortion to heightened scrutiny. 

In the brief joined by Wyoming, the 24 states agree that nothing in the text, history, or tradition of the U.S. Constitution supports a right to elective abortion.

The tests currently applied to state abortion regulations – which look to fetal viability and “undue burdens” imposed on abortion access – are unworkable and applied inconsistently, even by the U.S. Supreme Court, leaving states uncertain as to how they can or cannot regulate abortion. Ultimately, the states conclude, whether and how to regulate elective abortions, including prior to fetal viability, should be left to each state and its voters rather than to federal judges.

“This year has made abundantly clear that federal overreach harms Wyoming and its citizens,” Gordon said. “Wyoming must stand up for states’ rights. I am happy to extend support to Mississippi in order to properly keep state control over state issues, especially in the fight to protect the unborn.”

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Biden Appoints Gordon to Bipartisan Council of Governors

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

President Joe Biden has appointed Gov. Mark Gordon to a bipartisan Council of Governors, the governor’s office announced on Thursday.

Gordon is one of nine governors appointed to a two-year term on the council, which was authorized and required by the National Defense Authorization Act in 2008 under President George W. Bush. The council serves as a forum to strengthen partnerships between federal and state governments to better protect the nation from threats to homeland security and other types of hazards.

The council focuses on matters of homeland security, homeland defense, civil support, synchronization and integration of state and federal military activities in the United States and other matters of mutual interest, including those involving the National Guard.

“From the very founding of our country, Americans have depended on our National Guard,” Gordon said. “The men and women who serve in our Army and Air Guard are always there for us, and we should always be grateful for their service. I am honored and humbled to have been asked to serve on the Council because of the important role it plays.”

The council includes leaders across the Federal government: the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, the Deputy Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs, the Commander of U.S. Northern Command, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and the Chief of the National Guard Bureau.

Other key federal officials such as the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are regular participants.

The current council is:

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Co-Chair
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, Co-Chair
Delaware Gov. John Carney
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon

The nine newly appointed Governors will join Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on the council. Lee’s term expires in 2022.

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Wyoming Still Evaluating Ways To Help Border Crisis; Troops Still Not Mentioned

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

If Wyoming’s governor is thinking about sending troops to help with the crisis on the U.S. – Mexico border, he’s not announcing it publicly.

Last week when asked if Gov. Mark Gordon might follow the lead of other states by sending personnel to the border to help the governors of Arizona and Texas, his spokesman said the office was “evaluating specifics of the requests.”

On Wednesday, the governor’s office published a press release providing a bit more insight on the thinking in the capitol but not mentioning troop deployment either.

So far the governors of Ohio, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Florida have said they will deploy troops or law enforcement officers to assist the two southern states.

That’s not to say Wyoming isn’t doing anything. What’s right for one state may not work for another state. 

The governor, as was told to Cowboy State Daily last week and in today’s press release, is looking for the right way to help with the border crisis.

The release stated that the governor’s office did offer “aerial assets” but upon further review, it appeared those assets “may not precisely match the needs of the requested border mission.”

Specifically, the state offered up its Cessna 208 surveillance aircraft equipped with a digital mapping camera.

If not the plane, then how could Wyoming help?

Wednesday’s announcement doesn’t provide any clues but does reiterate Gordon believes the change in policy at the border brings with it significant risks — even to the Cowboy State.

“Law-enforcement issues at the border and uncontrolled illegal immigration threaten every part of our nation, including Wyoming,” Gordon said.  

The U.S. Border Patrol told NBC News that over the last month it has encountered an average of 5,000 undocumented immigrants a day.

The agency further said that the rate in which Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent, is being smuggled from the deserts of Mexico through the town of El Paso is up 355% since last year and up 4,000% since 2019.

The Border Patrol said Mexican cartels are behind the explosive increase.

“It is clear that the Biden Administration is not addressing this problem with the level of seriousness it requires. Wyoming is ready and willing to provide support to address this critical issue,” Gordon said.

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Gordon Evaluating U.S. – Mexico Border Situation For Ways To Help

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is evaluating the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas before responding to a request from the governors of Texas and Arizona for help, he said Thursday.

Gordon told Cowboy State Daily that while it is important to keep America’s southern border secure, he has not determined how to answer the request from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Greg Ducey for help at the border.

“Together with the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security, I am currently evaluating the specifics of the request to see what resources we can provide to assist these border states,” he said. “It is absolutely essential that our nation’s borders are secure.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported earlier this week that more than 1 million undocumented immigrants have been arrested since October after crossing the Mexico border into the United States

Abbott is pushing for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and has even declared states of emergency for various counties in the southern part of the state. Abbott and Ducey have called on their fellow governors to send help to secure the border.

In response to the request, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem this week ordered 100 National Guard soldiers be sent to the border in Texas to help with the influx of undocumented immigrants crossing the border.

A billionaire Republican donor from Tennessee actually paid $1 million to offset the costs of the South Dakota National Guard going to Texas, according to an article from the Associated Press.

Gordon said the work by Abbott and Ducey was necessary because of the failure of the federal government to take necessary action.

“Our country is threatened any time we cannot secure our borders, and I applaud these two governors for taking action in the absence of federal leadership on this issue,” Gordon told Cowboy State Daily. “I, along with other Governors, are working to aid our colleagues as best we can. It is clear that the Biden administration is not addressing this problem with the level of seriousness it requires.”

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Gordon, Buchanan Invite National Rifle Association to Relocate to Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon and Secretary of State Ed Buchanan are inviting the National Rifle Association to explore relocating its Virginia operation to Wyoming. 

The two, in a letter sent to the NRA earlier this month, pointed to the state’s business-friendly tax environment, available workforce and the population’s strong support for Second Amendment rights as reasons to move to Wyoming. 

“We embody the ideals that are fundamental to the National Rifle Association,” the letter said. “Wyoming citizens appreciate their freedoms, especially when it comes to their Second Amendment rights.”

The organization has been looking to relocate from Virginia since the beginning of the year, following a bankruptcy declaration. Other states have previously courted the NRA, including West Virginia.

The letter also pointed to other firearm businesses in Wyoming, such as Magpul, Weatherby and Gunwerks.

Gordon is a lifetime member of the NRA and believes the right to bear arms is fundamental. Owning guns was part of a way of life growing up on his family ranch in Kaycee and remains so today, he said.

Gordon also signed multiple pieces of legislation this year that reinforced existing firearms laws in Wyoming, and he has also helped facilitate the relocation of several firearms manufacturing businesses to Wyoming.

“Wyoming citizens value our state’s customs, culture and  pro-second amendment laws,” Gordon said in a statement Tuesday. “We will always protect personal freedoms, and those of businesses involved in the firearms industry. All of this, plus our great hunting and other outdoor opportunities, make Wyoming an ideal place for the National Rifle Association to consider home.”

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Gordon Reintroduces Wyoming Meat Processing Grant Program

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon has relaunched a program designed to boost the capacity of the state’s meat processing facilities and ease the impact of meat supply chain disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, he announced Wednesday.

Gordon relaunched the Wyoming Meat Processing Expansion grant program, which allocates up to $2 million in federal CARES funds to increase Wyoming’s local food supply chain security and capacity across the state.

“The significant processing bottlenecks that surfaced last year have not gone away,” Gordon said. “This program will continue to help improve our meat processing capacity and ensure Wyomingites have access to high-quality products. Our work assisting independent processors is important to our overall agriculture diversification efforts and helps to expand an important sector of our ag economy.”

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, major meat processing facilities across the country were forced to close, reducing the amount of meat reaching grocery store shelves and making it difficult for ranchers to get their meat processed.

In response, Gordon in September launched the meat processing plant relief program, setting aside money so processing plant operators could expand tehir operations.

The Wyoming Department of Agriculture is currently accepting applications for the program. The program offers grants of up to $500,000 to eligible businesses with a 50% match component for funding.

Initial priority will be given to entities and businesses that did not previously receive funding from the grant program in September.

Following this priority batch, applications will be accepted on a first-come, first-serve rolling basis until funds have been expended.

Applications will be reviewed for accuracy, eligibility, and completeness by the Wyoming Business Council, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and the governor’s office.

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Gordon Will Work With Legislature To Consider Juneteenth As Formal State Holiday

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

In response to the new federal “Juneteenth” holiday which was signed into law by President Joe Biden on Thursday, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said he will work with the state legislature to examine making it a formal state holiday as well.

Gordon signed a proclamation recognizing the significance of the new holiday noting that while most federal employees will get the day off of work on Friday, state workers will be at work as normal as only the state Legislature can set state holidays.

The holiday recognizes the emancipation of Blacks who had previously been held as slaves.

Wyoming has recognized Juneteenth since 2003 and has established it as a holiday on the third Saturday of June.

“Freedom is always a cause for celebration and this is a momentous day in our nation’s history. I encourage people to observe this commemoration of the full enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation, which embodies the values of all Americans,” Gov. Gordon said.

The legislation making Juneteenth a national holiday passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate and by a 415 – 14 vote in the House.

It’s been 35 years since the last federal holiday was created. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was first celebrated federally in 1986.

There are now 10 federal holidays in the U.S.

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Gordon Criticizes Biden Royalties Proposal

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A plan to abandon a proposed mineral royalty reduction that never took effect is being criticized by Gov. Mark Gordon as the latest in a pattern of steps being taken against fossil fuels.

Gordon, in a news release, criticized the administration of President Joe Biden for trying to withdraw the royalty reduction plan offered by the administration of former President Donald Trump as another example of Biden working against fossil fuels without consulting with the country’s governors.

“The list of anti-fossil fuel actions implemented by the Biden Administration without prior consultation with fossil fuel governors just keeps getting longer,” he said. “This announcement is clearly a pattern, and the effort to justify this withdrawal based on harm to the U.S. taxpayer is disingenuous.”

The Trump administration last year proposed changes in the way oil and gas is valued for royalty payments to the federal government. The changes would have reversed some rules put in place by the administration of former President Barak Obama in 2016.

The latest rules were finalized in January, but were blocked from taking effect by the Biden administration.

The Office of Natural Resources Revenue Office on Friday announced it is proposing the withdrawal of the Trump administration rules, saying the process for their adoption “arguably was without observance of procedure required by law, as well as in excess of ONRR’s statutory authority.”

The ONRR estimated that had the Trump rules taken effect, mineral royalty payments to the federal government would have been released by $64.6 million annually.

The ONRR, in its formal proposal, also noted the reductions proposed by Trump were designed to encourage mineral production on federal lands.

“ONRR has no explicit mandate to increase production,” the proposal said.

The ONRR told E&E News that if the changes had been allowed to take effect, communities would be hurt by a reduction in their shares of royalties.

However, Gordon argued if the Biden administration was truly concerned about taxpayers, it would not have put a halt to oil and gas lease sales on federal property.

“Fossil fuel companies can only pay royalties if they are producing,” he said. “Increasing royalty rates when the coal, oil and gas industries are still attempting to recover from 2020 is just kicking the industry when it is down.”

“When those companies go out of business, no royalties are collected, less money is set aside for reclamation activities and the price of gasoline will continue to rise,” he added.

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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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