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Gordon vetoes call for state to sue over coal terminal

in Energy/News
shipping containers at export facility
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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would have allowed the Legislature to sue the state of Washington over the denial of permits for a coal export terminal has been vetoed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon on Friday vetoed HB 251, saying if legal action was taken by the Legislature, it could interfere with court filings already submitted by the executive branch.

“Giving courts the impression that two branches of Wyoming’s government might be second-guessing one another — in fact potentially litigating over the top of one another — would be counterproductive to our best efforts to protect Wyoming’s interests,” he said in his veto message to Secretary of State Ed Buchanan. “Furthermore, dividing the limited resources of Wyoming’s Attorney General between two potentially contemporaneous cases would do a disservice to both at the expense of Wyoming.”

However, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said the measure would have set up a cooperative effort between the legislative and executive branches.

“It’s going to take a team effort between the executive branches for there to be success on this issue,” he said in a prepared statement. “This bill created a framework for this team effort to occur, so that we have the best chance for success on this issue. The veto is detrimental to that effort.”

Washington officials have denied necessary permits to build a coal export terminal to export coal from Wyoming and other states to foreign markets. Lighthouse Resources, the company proposing the export terminal, is suing Washington over the denial, alleging the state is violating the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

Wyoming and several other coal-producing states have filed “friend of the court” briefs in support of Lighthouse’s lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

Gordon wrote that while he supports the Legislature’s desire to protect the state’s economic interests, legal action taken by lawmakers independent of the executive branch could cause confusion.

“This bill … carves an unprecedented path — absent compelling reason — encouraging the Legislature to take a potentially different course from that that the state is already pursuing,” he wrote. “The obvious confusion this could engender is at best problematic and at worst fatal.”

Responsibility for such legal action rests with the executive branch, not the Legislature, Gordon wrote.

However, Gray said by taking up the issue, the Legislature would have sent a message to Washington officials.

“This bill shows the state of Washington that we are serious about this issue,” he said. “Also, the Legislature looking into this issue creates the environment where there is the best opportunity for success.”

In Brief: Governor signs emergency order allowing more propane deliveries

in Energy/News
slick snow roads Wyoming
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By Cowboy State Daily

Frigid winter temperatures across the state prompted Gov. Mark Gordon on Monday to sign an executive order allowing drivers of propane delivery trucks to drive extra hours to deliver much-needed fuel.

Gordon’s order suspends limits on the number of hours that drivers can put in on the road if they are bringing propane to Wyoming or making in-state deliveries.

In a news release, Gordon declared a state of emergency, citing propane shortages predicted to occur with higher consumption during the cold weather.

“I didn’t sign this order lightly,” Gordon said in a news release. “I put these emergency rules in place in recognition of how harmful it would be to not be able to heat your home.”

The order, set to expire by March 31, requires that drivers not drive while fatigued. It is similar to rules already put in place in surrounding states facing the same issue.

Governor signs public records, animal cruelty bill

in Criminal justice/Education/Energy/News/Transparency
Wyoming Legislature bills signed by Governor Gordon
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By Cowboy State Daily

Bills creating a felony crime of animal abuse and setting a deadline for the production of public records were among a group signed into law on Friday by Gov. Mark Gordon.

HB 235, one of the last bills to be approved by the Legislature in the closing hours of its general session, makes it a felony for a person to commit aggravated cruelty to animals resulting in the death or euthanasia of an animal or to abuse an animal with an intent to kill it.

The law takes effect July 1. Currently, a person convicted of animal abuse can only be found guilty of a misdemeanor. A felony conviction carries a prison sentence of up to two years.

The public records law, SF 57, sets a 30-day deadline for the release of public documents. It also authorizes the hiring of an ombudsman to help mediate disputes over the release of public documents.

Under existing law, there was no time limit for government agencies to release public documents.

Other bills signed into law Friday included:

  • SF 159, designed to encourage utilities to sell old coal-fired electric plants rather than retire them;
  • HB 103, requiring doctors who perform abortions to report those procedures to the state Office of Vital Records and requiring the the data be compiled into a public report;
  • SF 122, creating the “Wyoming Works Program,” which will provide grants for students attending technical programs at community colleges, and 
  • HB 99, creating a state “Public Lands Day.”

Gordon has until late March to sign bills into law, veto them or allow them to become law without his signature.

Authorization to sue Washington clears Senate

in Energy/News
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By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Legislature could launch legal action against the state of Washington over its refusal to allow the construction of coal export terminals under legislation approved by the Senate on Monday.

HB 251 was approved in its third reading on a vote of 22-7.

The measure gives the Legislature’s Management Council — lawmakers in leadership positions — the authority to file a lawsuit with or without the governor’s authorization and sets aside $250,000 for legal service.

The dispute stems over Washington’s denial of permits for Lighthouse Resources to build coal export terminals to ship American coal to Asian markets, which the bill maintains is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. Wyoming in May joined five other coal-producing states in filing “friend of the court” briefs in support of a lawsuit against Washington filed by Lighthouse.

The bill calls for the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee to study the feasibility of suing Washington for damages and then make a recommendation to the Legislature by Dec. 1. The money set aside to hire legal services could not be used until the Legislature approves the expense.At least one senator said she did not understand why the state needs to hire outside lawyers.

“My preference would be to use the talented lawyers we have working in the Wyoming attorney general’s (office) to do the bulk of that work rather than providing those dollars to outside attorneys,” said Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne.

Ellis said she would also rather see the state team up with coal companies already suing Washington than start separate litigation.

In Brief: Bill to encourage sale of old power plants clears House

in Energy/News
Pile of coal, ALT=Wyoming coal exports
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By Cowboy State Daily

A measure designed to encourage utilities to sell aging coal-fired power plants rather than close them was approved by the House on Tuesday.

Representatives voted 50-8 in favor of SF 159, which would authorize the use of regulations to encourage companies like Rocky Mountain Power to sell old power plants.

The measure is seen as a way to keep aging coal-fired plants in operation —and employing workers — rather than having them closed down by their owners. Among other things, the bill would allow the state to encourage power utilities to buy energy produced by the older power plants. The bill would also reduce the amount of the cost utilities could pass on to their customers for the construction of new power plants if old power plants were simply closed.

The bill now heads to the Senate for a review of amendments added in the House.

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