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Biden Administration Order Halt To New Oil And Gas Drilling On Federal Lands For 60 Days

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By Derek Draplin, The Center Square

President Joe Biden’s administration issued an order temporarily halting leases and permits for oil and gas development on federal land, fulfilling a pledge he made during his campaign, despite pushback from the industry and states that rely on revenue from energy development.

Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega signed an order that suspends approval of new land leases and drilling permits for 60 days. The order also “temporarily elevates review” of other agency decisions for DOI leadership.

“The Order does not impact existing ongoing operations under valid leases and does not preclude the issuance of leases, permits and other authorizations,” DOI said in a statement Thursday.

Biden, whose campaign pledged to ban new leases and reinstate environmental regulations rolled back by the Trump administration, has nominated U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., to serve as DOI secretary pending the Senate’s approval.

The order was criticized Thursday by energy industry groups and praised by environmental watchdog organizations.

American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Mike Sommers said in a statement that the move means the U.S. will have to rely on foreign countries for energy development and risks American jobs.

“With this move, the administration is leading us toward more reliance on foreign energy from countries with lower environmental standards and risks to hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in government revenue for education and conservation programs,” he said. “We stand ready to engage with the Biden administration on ways to address America’s energy challenges, but impeding American energy will only serve to hurt local communities and hamper America’s economic recovery.”

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Denver-based Western Energy Alliance, warned that the temporary ban is “a precursor to a longer-term ban.”

Sgamma added that if the acting secretary does not hold quarterly lease sales as required by law, the Alliance is “prepared to challenge this intended ban in court at the appropriate time.”

Dan Ritzman, the lands, water and wildlife director for the Sierra Club, tweeted that the organization “welcomes this opportunity for the Biden administration to chart a new path for our country’s lands and waters.”

“Pausing new fossil fuel decisions brings us closer to healthier communities, a healthier climate and healthier wild places,” he said.

Several western states rely heavily on tax revenue from energy development that takes place on federal lands, such as Wyoming and New Mexico.

A federal lease moratorium would result in a $639.7 billion hit to gross domestic product (GDP) in Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Montana, North Dakota, California, and Alaska by 2040, according to a report released last month that was commissioned by the Wyoming Legislature.

“The economic predictions are devastating, to be blunt, to Wyoming,” Gov. Mark Gordon said when the study was released.

Gordon’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the DOI’s order.

Conservation projects also rely heavily on revenue from energy development on federal lands. 

DOI disbursed $8 billion from offshore and federal land energy development to the states in 2020, down from $11.69 billion in 2019. 

The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), which passed Congress with bipartisan support, relies on oil and gas development royalties to pay off the National Park Service’s $12 billion maintenance backlog. 

The Land Water Conservation Fund, which GAOA requires to be funded with $900 million annually, is funded by federal offshore oil and gas revenue, which in turn is distributed to states for conservation projects.

DOI announced on Tuesday that LWCF’s State and Local Assistance Program will get over $302.3 million for fiscal year 2021 that’s apportioned to states.

Colorado, for instance, is set to receive almost $5.2 million of that apportionment.

A Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesperson told The Center square the funding will “help support critical Colorado Parks and Wildlife projects and allow us to provide opportunities for both recreation and resource conservation. This funding helps us to ensure Coloradans will be able to enjoy our resources for generations to come.”

The Bozeman, Mont.-based Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) recommends utilizing user-based funding streams for conservation and recreation instead of relying on oil and gas revenue. 

“Arguably, recreationists and conservationists would benefit the most from unshackling funding from energy revenues. Establishing a federal advisory committee could be an initial step toward finding a user-based model that can provide the resources necessary to steward our public lands for future generations,” PERC said in a recent report. 

Biden also revoked the Keystone XL’s permit and rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, among other orders on his first day in office.

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Gordon Eases Health Restrictions as COVID Hospitalizations Go Down

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Thursday that health orders restricting the size of gatherings will be eased, citing improvement in Wyoming’s coronavirus situation since the beginning of December. 

The latest change is to increase attendance limits for indoor and outdoor gatherings as the state continues to make progress in its fight against the virus.

Beginning Tuesday, indoor gatherings that incorporate social distancing and face coverings are permitted for up to 25% of the facility’s capacity or a maximum of 250 persons, while up to 500 people will be able to attend outdoor gatherings, Gordon said. 

“Wyoming is making progress and coming closer to safely returning to more normal lives, and the steps we have taken are helping us achieve this,” Gordon said. “I am confident that as our vaccination rate increases, the data-driven approach we are taking and our improving circumstances will give us more opportunity to further relax our orders.”

Since December, in the wake of a spike in coronavirus cases, Gordon and state Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist issued health orders restricting gatherings to 10 people or fewer. The move was seen as one way to slow the spread of the illness.

Counties can still ask for permission to opt out of the new restrictions if local conditions move to safer levels in accordance with White House metrics. Health officials will continue to consider exemption requests for specific events on a case-by-case basis.

As of Thursday, Wyoming hospitals reported 81 hospitalized coronavirus patients, down from a peak of 247 on Nov. 30.

Health officials remain concerned about the new, more transmissible “UK variant” of the virus identified in Teton County last week. Currently authorized virus vaccines are believed to be effective against the UK variant strain.

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Gordon Congratulates Biden, Harris on Inauguration

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon followed in the footsteps of other elected Wyoming officials on Wednesday morning, congratulating new President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in a post on Twitter.

“Congratulations to President Biden and Vice President Harris on their inauguration,” he wrote. “I look forward to working with you on the important issues facing our nation, the West and Wyoming.”

The governor added that he and First Lady Jennie Gordon would be praying for the United States and the success of Biden’s administration, echoing sentiments from U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis in her remarks about the new president.

“Luke 12:48 says, ‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked,'” Gordon wrote in a second tweet.

Gordon, Lummis and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney all sent good wishes to the Biden administration Wednesday morning.

It should be noted that the governor didn’t congratulate Biden on his win in the presidential election in November, but also didn’t sign onto a multi-state lawsuit that contested many of the ballots cast in the election.

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Gordon On Pandemic: “Our State Has Been Resilient”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s resiliency through the coronavirus pandemic has allowed the state to fare better than most, Gov. Mark Gordon said Tuesday.

During his address to the Legislature, Gordon praised Wyoming’s willingness to do what was needed to reduce the impact of the virus as much as possible.

“We undertook actions to protect public health,” he said in his remarks. “But unlike other states, we have been able to maintain our way of life and liberty and have striven to keep businesses open and kids in schools.”

Gordon added that there was a “light at the end of the tunnel” of the pandemic, since two coronavirus vaccines have been introduced and are already being distributed across the state and country.

However, he still grieved for the 489 people who have died in Wyoming due to complications from the virus, as well as the 190 people who have died by suicide in the state during the pandemic.

The governor applauded Wyoming’s response to the pandemic from the local level to the federal.

He pointed out that despite the pandemic, tourism in Wyoming still was prosperous, with Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks both seeing record-breaking numbers throughout the late summer and fall months.

“I will add that hunting and fishing in Wyoming remained at near record levels this year and our state parks never had more visitors,” Gordon said.

He thanked Wyoming’s Congressional delegation, U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, for helping the state secure $1.25 billion in CARES Act funding, which has almost completely been distributed throughout communities across Wyoming.

“This [money] was a tremendous help in keeping our state and citizens afloat during this pandemic,” he said.

Gordon also touted Wyoming’s low unemployment rate of 5.1% as one of the lowest in the nation.

He added that he would introduce “several policy initiatives” over the next few weeks to help Wyoming stay on its positive path.

“These will make sure we live within our means, simplify our budgeting process, revitalize our education, protect our opportunity and energize our economy,” he said.

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Capitol Invasion Dishonors American Legacy, Gordon Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The storming of the U.S. Capitol by people unhappy with the outcome of November’s presidential election dishonors the legacy of America, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.

Gordon joined members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation in criticizing the actions of the group that broke into the Capitol earlier in the day, forcing the evacuation of the building.

“Interfering with the peaceful transfer of power is an affront to the very Constitution that has made our country what it is,” he said in a statement. “I believe America will not — cannot — stand for this assault on our democracy. I am heartbroken.”

An undetermined number of people described as supporters of President Donald Trump breached the security measures in place around the Capitol on Wednesday as members of Congress discussed certifying the results of the Electoral College vote from November’s presidential election.

The vote verifies the victory of Democrat Joe Biden, but Trump has raised allegations of voter fraud in six states.

The storming of the Capitol occurred after a rally where Trump spoke and encouraged Republican members of Congress to reject the Electoral College’s votes.

Gordon said he hoped the rest of the country would follow the example set by Wyoming in terms of peaceful political debate.

“I encourage the entire country to follow the example that we have demonstrated here in Wyoming, a proper and peaceful expression of dissent — the cornerstone of free speech,” his statement said.

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Gordon Unveils Grant Program For Nonprofits Impacted By COVID

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon unveiled a new program on Tuesday that would provide grant funding to nonprofit organizations that have provided public assistance or seen a decline in donations during the coronavirus pandemic.

The governor has allocated more than $12.1 million in CARES Act funding for the Community Charitable Relief Program to Wyoming counties and tribal governments.

All decisions on funding will be made at the local level, with county commissioners and tribal governments in charge of distributing the grant funds to local entities.

With the new Congressional aid package extending the deadline states have to use CARES Act dollars, counties and tribes have until March 1 to distribute the grant funding. However, Gordon is urging local governments to act quickly to ensure the funds reach organizations in need.

“No one can say this has been an easy year. There are so many needs that have been highlighted by the challenge of this virus and all that accompanied it,” Gordon said. “Never has the work of charitable organizations been more important and they have shouldered additional responsibilities in so many ways. This program will give county and tribal governments the ability to provide some more support to those organizations that they know have served the public and been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.”

Gordon expressed his appreciation to state House Speaker Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, for his leadership in developing this program.

Harshman said that there is much work to be done around the state.

“There have been so many acts of kindness in all of our neighborhoods and it is so heartening to know how much Wyoming people really care and how generous we are,” Harshman said. “With that I am pleased to see this program come to a group of important organizations that were somewhat overlooked in the CARES funding process. These organizations do the Lord’s work and there is no better time to help and support those who help and support so many others.”

The governor also thanked incoming Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper and incoming Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, for their support of the program.

“I commend the governor for coordinating this work through the state’s county commissions,” Dockstader. “They understand the needs of their individual charities.”

Jim Willox, Converse County Commissioner and president of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association said the program provides commissioners an opportunity to direct much-needed relief to nonprofit organizations in their communities.

“The opportunity for commissioners to work closely with Governor Gordon to get money into the hands of those organizations meeting the growing needs of people in our communities is appreciated,” Willox said. “This will be welcome relief for many of our neighbors as we close a difficult year.”

Wyoming nonprofit organizations are encouraged to contact county commissioners or the tribal business council in their service area for additional details on the grant process.

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Gordon And Lummis Say Ban on Oil and Gas Leasing Would Threaten Wyoming Economy

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Governor Mark Gordon and U.S. Sen.-elect Cynthia Lummis on Tuesday both shared their concerns over a possible federal ban on oil and gas leasing.

Gordon, in a press conference, released a study that said the state could lose more than $300 million a year in tax revenue if a ban were enacted.

“A federal leasing ban would be a serious threat to our state’s economy,” Gordon said. “The revenue challenges that we currently face would be further exacerbated by any misguided federal policies that unfairly target states with large swaths of federal land.”

Lummis sounded a higher-level alarm, calling a ban “catastrophic” for Wyoming both in terms of revenue and jobs and pledged to fight against it.

“This highlights why I started this week in Georgia,” Lummis said.
“If we lose control of the Senate, stopping horrible actions like a federal drilling ban become extremely difficult.”

In order for the Republican Party to keep control of the United States Senate, both Republican candidates need to win their respective races in Georgia’s January runoff.

During his campaign for the White House, Joe Biden pledged to halt oil and gas leasing on federal land, along with hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”

According to the study referenced by Gordon and commissioned by Wyoming’s Legislature, the value of lost production in Wyoming under a federal leasing moratorium during the first five years would average $872 million.

That translates to more than $300 million per year in lost tax revenue annually, which includes severance tax, ad-valorem tax , federal royalties and lease bonus payments.

Over 15 years that revenue loss would increase to $1.7 billion. In the event of a drilling ban, the loss to Wyoming’s revenues would increase to $345 million per year, increasing to $1.8 billion over 15 years.

The study estimates the investment and production losses from policies that restrict oil and gas development on federal lands in Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Montana, North Dakota, California and Alaska. Those policies include either a moratorium on all new federal leases or an outright drilling ban on all onshore federal lands.

The study estimates investment losses over the 8 states and 20 years to be in excess of $300 billion for either the leasing or drilling ban. The tax losses to the states exceed $110 billion. The overall loss of economic growth is over $600 billion.

Funding for the study came from a one-time appropriation by the Wyoming Legislature during the 2020 budget session.

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Gordon Says No To Texas Supreme Court Lawsuit

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Governor Mark Gordon has issued the following statement addressing Wyoming’s involvement in a lawsuit filed by the Texas attorney general against Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. 

“I strongly support the Supreme Court hearing the Constitutional issue of the Electors Clause raised by Texas in their petition. President Trump has the right to bring electoral issues for resolution in the US judicial system.

“I, along with Wyoming voters, overwhelmingly supported President Trump through our electoral process.

“As Governor, my sworn duty is to protect the right of Wyoming citizens to vote. I also agree that States must follow laws passed by their legislature concerning elections.

“I could not be more proud of Wyoming’s electoral process, both in terms of security and the ability for Wyomingites to cast their vote.

“We were not informed nor asked by Texas to consider joining their suit. The State of Texas’s filing was more than 150 pages and there was inadequate time to properly consider the ramifications of joining the motion specifically, or to thoughtfully consider joining the supporting states’ brief before it was filed.

“I asked the Attorney General to look into the case and consider possible actions the State of Wyoming might take.

“General Hill did this, and after significant consideration we believe that the case could have unintended consequences relating to a constitutional principle that the State of Wyoming holds dear – that States are sovereign, free to govern themselves.

“Should the Supreme Court grant Texas’s motion, we will weigh in a manner that is suitable and appropriate for the issues raised. As always, I will make sure Wyoming’s interests are protected.”

Statement from Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan:

“I support the State of Texas in its quest to ensure that elections are conducted in accordance with the constitution and state law. Our judiciary is the proper place to raise these issues.”

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Gordon to Announce COVID Relief Program For Bars, Restaurants Which Have to Close at 10pm

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon, the Wyoming Business Council and the Wyoming Department of Health are working together to quickly roll out a relief program for businesses that now have reduced hours of operation due to the newest health orders passed this week.

The program will use federal CARES Act dollars to reimburse restaurants and bars for income lost during the hours of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., the times they are required to be closed.

“I want to thank everyone for joining together to protect their communities and also to support local businesses,” Gordon said. “We hope to have final details available this week and to start taking applications for relief funding for business owners who are helping to save lives by reducing their hours.”

Gordon has often spoken of the importance of keeping businesses open, and with hours reduced for the next several weeks, he said the support provided by the assistance program is is critical.

The Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association and the Wyoming State Liquor Association are helping to notify their members about the opportunity.

With Congress still debating an emergency stimulus package, the timing of the program will depend on availability of relief funding. Additional federal stimulus funds or an extension of the Dec. 30 CARES Act deadline could allow additional dollars to be directed towards this program.

“I have been working with legislative leaders so we can quickly change state laws if Congress does act and provides new relief to the states. I appreciate their efforts to prepare and be ready to act quickly,” Gordon said.

The Wyoming Business Council plans to release additional information about the program later this week. The WLRA and WSLA will also be distributing this information to their members as soon as it becomes available.

“We appreciate the Governor’s efforts to help offset the financial impacts some of our members will experience, and we thank him for working with industry on keeping our businesses and employees whole,” Mike Moser, Executive Director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association, said.

“This relief program is welcome news and an opportunity for the Wyoming hospitality industry to address lost revenues,” Chris Brown, Executive Director of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association, said.  

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Wyoming’s First Lady Jennie Gordon Tests Positive For COVID-19; Gov Gordon Recovered

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In a very short press release, Gov. Mark Gordon’s office announced on Thursday that First Lady Jennie Gordon has tested positive for COVID-19.

The one paragraph announcement also mentioned that Gov. Gordon has “recovered” from the illness and is “nearly symptom-free.”

“They have been in quarantine together since November 20th. The First Lady is only experiencing minor symptoms at this time,” the release said.

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