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Wyoming Joins 10-State Lawsuit Over Greenhouse Gas Order

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming is joining nine other states in a lawsuit aimed at stopping the Biden administration from considering the “social cost” of greenhouse gas emissions in making decisions on federal policies and rules.

Gov. Mark Gordon on Thursday announced that Wyoming will join the other states in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Louisiana seeking to block implementation of one of President Joe Biden’s executive orders that would require federal agencies to consider the impact on climate change of any federally regulated activity that generates carbon dioxide, methane or nitrous oxide.

“This executive order improperly changes how decisions are made by applying a selective and highly biased feel-good rationale that has the potential to significantly harm industries critical to the nation’s and my state’s livelihood,” Gordon said. “Arbitrarily justifying any decision to fit political circumstances, including decisions that could be devastating to Wyoming’s energy sector, is not only bad policy, but is unwise.”

The lawsuit challenges one of the executive orders issued by Biden in his first days as president creating a working group to determine the “social cost” of carbon, methane and nitrous oxide emissions. 

The “social cost” measurements are meant to be estimates of the monetary of damages caused by increases in the emissions of such greenhouse gases. The values would be established by a working group made up of officials including the secretaries of Interior, Treasury, Agriculture, Transportation and Health and Human Services.

Those values would be taken into account when federal agencies make decisions on policies and rules in areas such as energy development.

“It is essential that agencies capture the full costs of greenhouse gas emissions as accurately as possible, including taking global damages into account,” the executive order said. “An accurate social cost is essential for agencies to accurately determine the social benefits of reducing greenhouse emissions when conducting cost-benefit analysis of regulatory and other actions.”

But the lawsuit, filed by Louisiana Solicitor General Elizabeth Murrill, said the executive decision will have an impact on almost every aspect of American life because all three of the gases are very common.“

Because those gases are ubiquitous, the … estimates are potentially relevant to the cost-benefit analysis for every federal rule-making and a host of ‘other relevant agency actions’ … covering topics as diverse as vending machines, dishwashers, dehumidifiers, microwave ovens, residential water heaters … and battery chargers, just to name a few,” the lawsuit said. “In other words, federal agencies must now use the (social cost of greenhouse gases) estimates to calculate regulatory costs and benefits for virtually everything that states and their citizens encounter every day.”

The executive order results to the most expansive federal regulatory initiative in history, the lawsuit said.

“In short (the order) will remake our federalism balance of power, American life and the American economy by directing all federal agencies to employ in all their ‘decision-making,’ including rule-making, a numeric value for the costs of greenhouse grass emissions that will ensure the most pervasive regulation in American history,” it said. The lawsuit alleges that the order will hurt all 10 of the states involved in the lawsuit and that the order was improperly issued without sufficient public review or comment.

The lawsuit asks the court to rule that federal agencies cannot use the “social cost” estimates.

States involved in the lawsuit in addition to Wyoming and Louisiana are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota, Texas and West Virginia.

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Gordon Launches Emergency Rental Assistance Program

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

On Wednesday, Gov. Mark Gordon signed legislation that officially launched the federal emergency rental assistance program in Wyoming.

The program will use $200 million in federal funding to cover rent and utility costs for Wyomingites struggling financially due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gordon signed an executive order in February directing the Wyoming Department of Family Services to create the administrative infrastructure for the program so funds could be distributed quickly upon passage of this authorizing legislation.

“We have seen the need for this stabilizing relief since the federal government created this program in December,” Gordon said. “I’m pleased to sign this important legislation, which follows my executive order, authorizing the state to responsibly and efficiently administer these funds to Wyoming renters and landlords.”

Senate File 118 authorized DFS to administer the program, which is open to Wyoming renters who meet income eligibility requirements, are struggling to pay rent and/or utilities because of the pandemic and can demonstrate they are experiencing housing instability.

Applications are scheduled to open online at 8 a.m. on April 29 at dfs.wyo.gov/erap.

DFS has created a platform that will quickly process household applications and eligible payments. Local nonprofits will also receive program funding from DFS, so eligible households can receive help with their applications, as well as a range of other housing stability services.

DFS, along with the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, is administering the program, which is managed by a multi-agency Steering Committee.

“We are very thankful to Governor Gordon and the Wyoming Legislature for giving us the opportunity to help families who rent their home to avoid homelessness while recovering from the impacts of the pandemic,” Department of Family Services Director Korin Schmidt said. “The program also will help landlords, many of whom are small businesses, avoid financial difficulties when their renters cannot pay.”

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Gordon: Wyoming Will Not House Illegal Immigrants

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon has made it clear that any attempt by the federal government to move illegal immigrants to Wyoming will not be allowed.

“I want to state clearly and unequivocally that the State of Wyoming will not participate in relocation or housing efforts of illegal immigrants or unaccompanied minors, and I have made our position clear to Federal officials,” Gordon tweeted Friday.

The federal government is dealing with a surge of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. from its border with Mexico. More than 22,000 migrant children are currently by the government in what the Associated Press has called “substandard facilities.”

Gordon joined other governors in neighboring states who have issued similar declarations.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem received national attention for her tweet which one immigration advocacy group called “heartless”.

“South Dakota won’t be taking any illegal immigrants that the Biden Administration wants to relocate. My message to illegal immigrants… call me when you’re an American,” Noem said.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts on Tuesday declined a federal request to house unaccompanied migrant children, stating that resources should be used instead for Nebraskans.

“Nebraska is declining their request because we are reserving our resources for serving our kids.  I do not want our kids harmed as the result of President Biden’s bad policies,” he said.

Gordon said he was unaware of any federal immigration plans that include Wyoming but would “continue to actively monitor the situation and will respond forcefully as needed.”

The chairman of the Wyoming Democratic Party said he believed Gordon’s message was political in nature and made in effort to appear more conservative than he really is.

“This was motivated by his fear of being primaried by the right-wing of his party in 2022,” Joe Barbuto said. “He saw this as an opportunity to jump on a bandwagon that might build him a little conservative cred and give him a couple of lines to use in campaign ads and the debates he’ll face during the next election.”

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Gordon Calls Energy Moratorium “Unnecessary, Discriminatory to the People of Wyoming”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is calling President Joe Biden’s moratorium on energy development on federal lands unnecessary and discriminatory to the people of Wyoming.

Gordon recently sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, continuing his criticism of Biden’s moratorium, which was enacted when the president took office in January.

Among other concerns, Gordon cited the lack of consultation with western governors before the lease sale moratorium was put in effect.

In addition, Gordon stated “western states such as Wyoming are disproportionately affected by the freeze because of the amount of federal land and leases within our borders.” 

He pointed out that “the eight Western states with federal oil and gas leasing programs will have investment losses of $2.3 billion, production value losses of $882 million and tax revenue losses of $345 million in the first year of the moratorium.”

The letter was issued in response to the Department of Interior’s call for informal public comment on the Biden administration’s federal fossil fuel program review.

Gordon stressed the idea that oil and gas companies have more leases than they can develop is not accurate in Wyoming. 

Wyoming’s unique mix of federal, state and private surface and mineral rights requires oil and gas companies to make long-range plans for sensible and efficient development of oil and gas and prevent waste. It often takes many years for a company to successfully put together a drilling area for development.

Gordon also noted that federal lands are not over-leased. Approximately 66% of the federal mineral acreage considered leasable (not including national parks, national monuments, Wind River Reservation or geographically unsuitable areas) is currently unleased.

In the letter, Gordon added Wyoming is a leader in the adopting policies to allow oil and gas development to occur at the same time as wildlife protection.  He cited examples such as the state’s extensive experience setting policies to conserve the greater sage-grouse and wildlife migration corridors. He also highlighted Wyoming’s program of plugging abandoned or orphan wells, with more than 1,000 were successfully plugged in 2020.

Finally, Gordon asked Haaland to allow U.S. Bureau of Land Management state directors to “dedicate time for deliberate and thoughtful consultation with Wyoming and other states that have effective regulation of development, solid environmental protections, and whose economies, livelihoods and way of life are dependent upon the federal energy programs that this administration proposes to reform.”

“Policy changes to our bedrock program should not be based on a predetermined outcome without meaningful input from all stakeholders,” he wroter.

Last month, the state filed a lawsuit challenging the moratorium.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of Wyoming alleges that the administration’s action violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Mineral Leasing Act and the Federal Land Policy Management Act.

The lawsuit asks the court to set aside Haaland’s action and require the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to resume quarterly oil and gas lease sales, which have been suspended since the order was signed.

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

The resolution noted that in addition to owning almost than half of Wyoming’s land, the federal government has direct control over another 42 million acres of mineral rights in the state and some influence on more than 90% of the state’s minerals.

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Wyoming’s ‘State Of Emergency’ Needed For Federal Funds

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The state of emergency declared for Wyoming last year because of the coronavirus pandemic needs to continue to allow the state to take advantage of certain federal programs related to the illness, according to a spokesman for Gov. Mark Gordon.

Fremont County Commissioners recently discussed approaching the governor’s office about lifting the declaration issued March 13, 2020, according to a report in the Ranger newspaper in Riverton.

Commissioners cited steady declines in coronavirus cases seen in the past several months.

But Michael Pearlman, Gordon’s spokesman, said the declaration is needed if the state is to take advantage of programs aimed at covering some of the state’s expenses for addressing the illness.

“One that that’s important to keep in mind is that many of (the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s) policies regarding COVID-19 cost reimbursement are based upon the existence of a public health emergency,” Pearlman told the Cowboy State Daily. “So there would be financial consequences to the state were the governor to lift the state of emergency.”

In addition, the order gives the governor the ability to exercise certain executive powers, Pearlman said, such as orders extending some emergency rules needed to keep government in operation during the pandemic.

Gordon also used executive orders to have the state Department of Family Services prepare to distribute rental assistance even before legislation approving a rental assistance program was approved.

“This was critical to ensure that the public could receive federal benefits as quickly as possible,” Pearlman said.

Gordon will lift the order when advised to do so by public health officials and affected government agencies, Pearlman said.

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Gordon Says He Will Get Involved In School Funding Debate

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

It is time for the debate over Wyoming’s education system to move away from simple arguments over spending, so Gov. Mark Gordon will involve himself in the discussion, he said Thursday.

Gordon, discussing the recently completed general session of the Legislature, said the state has failed to address the “fiscal cliff” faced by its schools, largely because legislative discussions about funding problems have focused either on cutting spending or increasing taxes.

“I believe there is a third, perhaps more profitable approach, sort of taking a customer service approach,” he said. “What is it that our customers really want? What do our parents want from education, what do our businesses, what do our students want?

Gordon said he was disappointed lawmakers were unable to reach a compromise on school funding during the session that ended Wednesday.

According to state estimates, the state’s schools will face a funding shortfall of about $300 million a year, due largely to declining tax revenues from the state’s mineral sector.

Gordon said moving forward, he will take a role in the discussions, creating a group to focus on what services the state’s schools should be providing and then determining a budget to meet those needs.

“I think the discussion has moved from (what schools should deliver) to more of one that more money equals more education,” he said. “I’m looking at sending people out into the community … to get to know what people want from education.”

Gordon also said said he hopes the Legislature does not decide to use federal money awarded the state under the American Rescue Plan to make up shortfalls in state agencies.

The Legislature is expected to meet this summer to look at ways to spend the $1.1 billion the state is expected to receive from the program.

But Gordon said lawmakers should focus on how to solve the state’s financial problems in the long-term rather than use the federal funds for short-term relief.

“I really hope they don’t put off the substantial conversations that have to take place today, tomorrow and the next day to build that sustainable future,” he said.

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Gordon Says Wyoming Will Defend Second Amendment Rights

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming will resist any attempts to weaken Second Amendment rights, Gov. Mark Gordon said Thursday.

Gordon, speaking with reporters, said he was disappointed with the executive orders signed Thursday by President Joe Biden that the president said were aimed at slowing gun violence.

“I just want to say how disappointed I really am at the Biden administration and their actions today, because the Second Amendment is something that is absolutely fundamental to Wyoming,” he said. “There is no question the Second Amendment is a constitutional right and Wyoming will stand firm against any attempts to erode that right. We will protect our firearms at all costs.”

Biden’s six orders included one to tighten restrictions on “ghost guns,” weapons that can be built from parts purchased online and that do not carry serial numbers, and one to tighten restrictions on stabilizing braces used with handguns to improve their accuracy.

He also ordered the Justice Department to prepare model “red flag” legislation for states that may want to adopt such laws. “Red flag” legislation allows family members or law enforcement agencies to ask courts to temporarily ban people who may pose a threat to themselves or others from possessing firearms.

During his meeting with reporters, Gordon said Wyoming is a “Second Amendment state,” pointing as an example to legislation he signed Thursday that would prohibit financial institutions from discriminating against firearms businesses.

No bank in Wyoming has taken such a step, Gordon said, but some institutions in other states have refused to take firearms companies as customers.

“There have been some larger banks that have taken some extremist points of view when it comes to Second Amendment rights and we don’t appreciate that,” he said. “We just want to make it abundantly clear that Wyoming stands for Second Amendment rights.”

Earlier this week, Gordon signed into law a bill that would extend Wyoming’s privilege to carry a concealed weapon without a permit to any law-abiding American citizen.

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Wyoming Likely to Receive More Than $1B In COVID Relief

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming is likely to receive more than $1 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds later this year, Gov. Mark Gordon’s office announced Thursday.

Gordon has appointed a diverse group of stakeholders to develop a blueprint for using and distributing the funds provided to the state through the American Rescue Plan, President Joe Biden’s stimulus bill.

Current estimates show the state will receive $1.1 billion in addition to the millions of other dollars being distributed to citizens through tax rebates and to local governments and other entities from the federal government.

Gordon said he wants to identify needs and opportunities that could be addressed with the funds, as well as develop a budget to optimize the distribution.

“Wyoming will survive the impacts of COVID, drive through our period of recovery and set up the conditions for us to thrive in the long-term,” Gordon said. “It is imperative to emphasize long-term benefits because this funding has increased the debt for future generations.”

He stressed collaboration between the Legislature and the executive branch will be required to maximize the benefits of these resources for the people of Wyoming.

“I am committed to working with the Legislature to ensure that we use the funds effectively and responsibly, and that we seek to develop big ideas that will have significant and long-lasting impacts” Gordon said. “Wyoming won’t see these funds for some time, allowing us to develop a plan to ensure these dollars benefit citizens for years to come.”

The American Rescue Plan included $350 billion in aid to states and local governments. Guidance from the federal government on the use of the funds is expected to be issued in May, but unlike the federal CARES Act funding distributed last year, Wyoming will have nearly four years to spend the money.

The governor wants to focus on three areas in identifying the most significant problems Wyoming is facing due to this pandemic and then use the federal money to address the highest priorities within those areas. The areas are:

  • Health and Social Services
  • Education and Workforce
  • Economic Diversity and Economic Development

Reviews into each focus area will be led by a member of the executive branch in collaboration with the governor’s office.

Gordon stressed the importance of using these one-time funds for one-time expenses.

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Gordon Lets Ag-Related COVID Bill Become Law Without Signature

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is warning Wyoming’s farmers and ranchers to think carefully before taking advantage of a new law that would let them collect coronavirus relief funds.

Gordon, in a letter to state Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, explained why he allowed Senate File 50 to become law with out his signature, saying he is worried agriculture producers might be forced to repay the grants they receive under the law.

“I understand that some producers might want to get a chance at the federal one-armed bandit, and therefore will let the bill pass into law without my signature,” he wrote. “In my view, caveat emptor should be the watchword of the program: if producers are willing to take advantage of this program, they should be prepared to possibly have to pay back the grants — a decision that could cripple additional Wyoming industries.”

The bill would allow ranchers and farmers to seek federal coronavirus relief grants given to the state if they claim a loss incurred due to COVID-19.However, Gordon said he is not sure the program will meet federal requirements for the money to be used to compensate businesses for losses caused by COVID-19 or restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the illness.“

Rather than reimburse individuals or businesses for impacts related to an emergency, the program created in this legislation seems to seek some way to give money to agricultural producers simply because they are producers,” he wrote. “I remain concerned about what an unfriendly administration that appears to be preparing for war could do to Wyoming’s key industries, including agriculture.”

Gordon urged legislators to clarify and strengthen the program in the future and to investigate whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to offer a coronavirus relief program.

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Gordon Calls UW Water Bill Best Outcome Of Poor Options

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A bill allowing the University of Wyoming to develop its own water system without regulation by the city of Laramie is a poor solution to the ongoing dispute between the university and the city, according to Gov. Mark Gordon.

Although he signed the bill into law on Monday, Gordon said he had many reservations about it.

“My decision to sign this bill into law is simply an outgrowth of selecting the best outcome out of a suite of poor options,” he wrote in a letter to House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette.

The bill stems from a years-long debate over water used to irrigate the Jacoby Golf Course.

According to testimony during committee reviews of the bill, while Laramie allowed the university to use its water to irrigate the course for more than 50 years, the city started charging for the water in 2007 and the university is now paying almost $200,000 a year for the water.

The university developed two wells on land adjoining the golf course, but was prevented from using it to irrigate the course by a Laramie ordinance that banned water from being imported into the city’s boundaries without city approval.

The bill, House Bill 198, would allow the university to develop and use its own water without restrictions by the city.

But Gordon said the bill amounted to using legislation to address a local issue, a practice state Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, referred to as “litigating through legislation.”

“I agree that compelling legal arguments were made on both sides in committee and on the floor,” he wrote. “But this matter also involved the state engineer and some authority of an executive branch entity. Broadly, I am disappointed that this is the outcome in front of me today.”

He added the bill provides a solution only for the university, not other private property owners whose rights to use their water may be affected by Laramie’s ordinance.

In addition, the bill did not address the issue of whether Laramie can regulate water use within its boundaries, a responsibility he said state law gives to the state engineer, Gordon said.

“These and other questions will have to go unanswered for the time being,” he said. “I hope you will continue to look into this situation and offer solutions.”

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