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Forest Service Timber Cutbacks In Black Hills Will Hurt Economy And Environment, Says Senator

in News/wyoming economy
Photo by Matt Idler

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By Josh Wood, Business/Tourism Reporter

The impacts of a decision to reduce timber sales in the Black Hills National Forest will go far beyond the region’s economy, according to a state senator and a timber resource advocate. 

The limited timber sales — and the resulting reduced hours at two Black Hills area sawmills — will have environmental impacts on the Ponderosa Pine forests as well. 

With reduced forest management, one of the nation’s best managed forests won’t just see an increase in frequency of beetle infestations, but an increase in severity of wildfires as well, said Ben Wudtke, executive director of the Black Hills Forest Resource Association. 

“We’ve had tremendous success with reducing mountain pine beetle mortality and making forested stands resistant and resilient to wildfire impacts all through the timber harvest program that’s been on this forest for over 100 years,” he said. “With these reductions in sawmill capacity, these reductions in the capacity for timber harvest, those really equate to reductions in our capacity to care for the forest.” 

For Senator Ogden Driskill (R – Devils Tower), there’s a certain pride in how well, and how long, the BHNF has been managed. 

“Black Hills National Forest was the first timber sale in the United States, ever. It’s been extremely well managed for 140 to 150 years and the evidence of that is it’s a green forest,” said Driskill. 

Along with that pride comes frustration with the decision by the U.S. Forest Service to reduce timber sales.

“Directly From Biden”

According to Driskill, not only is the decision wrong but it was “unbelievably biased.” 

“I’ve just come out of two meetings on the forest plan revision … and it is very clear, looking at the way the plan was written, that this comes directly from the (President Joe) Biden administration and is a direct attack on the West,” said Driskill. “It’s not just sawmills, they’re going to come after everything. I’ve never seen anything like it. The term ‘the War on the West’ came through the time I was growing up and it never really came to fruit, but it’s here now.” 

According to Wudtke, Ponderosa Pine forests, like the ones in BHNF, have a disturbance-driven ecosystem. While disturbances used to occur naturally, human involvement has changed how these disturbances take place. 

“We’ve meddled with those disturbance processes and the forests aren’t in the same natural condition they were 150 years ago and are much more dense,” said Wudtke. “Because of that increased density, those natural disturbances such as pine beetles and wildfires are at a larger scale and higher severity than they were naturally, which puts additional values at risk. Not only ecologically but for our communities as well.” 

Disturbances can be introduced into the forest through a scientific process, said Wudtke, and one of those processes is logging. Reduction of those activities will leave the BHNF vulnerable, especially if the limit of timber sales goes for an extended period of time. 

Will Last Longer

While letters to the USFS from the Wyoming and South Dakota delegations indicated the reduction might be in place for three years, Wudtke said it could last much longer. 

“They’ve outlined the reductions on a three-year term here but conversations with forest products companies and the direction that they’re portraying in their plan revision process that’s underway right now indicates that those reductions are much longer term, on the order of decades,” he said.

“If the Forest Service continues with their planned reductions, we will absolutely be increasing our fire hazard and risk of future pine beetle infestations every year. It won’t take very long before the Black Hills is another headline or in the evening news about a stand replacing fire or a community disaster.” 

While much of the West has found itself ablaze with forest fires year after year, the Black Hills has fared better due to its management. One example of this cited by Wudtke was the Wabash Spring Fire near Custer, South Dakota, in April of this year. 

“It burned through a stand that had been harvested and that fuel had been reduced, removed from the forest, and they were able to get a controlled fire at 110 acres and the stand still looks beautiful,” he said.  “Those are the opportunities that we’re gonna be missing. 

Neiman Enterprises

An integral part in the management of that forest has been Neiman Enterprises, which operated three sawmills in the Black Hills area. 

Last year, due to the reduction in timber sales, Neiman Enterprises closed its sawmill in Hill City, South Dakota. Last week, the company announced a reduction in hours at its remaining two mills in Hulett and Spearfish, which will take effect in August. 

“Reduction with the Black Hills National Forest timber program has required us to temporarily remove a shift in Hulett and limit production in Spearfish,” Sonja Merryman, community relations and marketing manager for Neiman Enterprises, said in an email to Cowboy State Daily. “This curtailment is to match the current and anticipated timber volume.” 

While one shift will be removed at the Hulett facility, Merryman said the employees affected will remain on payroll, although their hours will be reduced. 

“Our employees are critical to our organization, communities and a critical piece of the health of this forest,” said Merryman. “We are adapting jobs and looking tino additional opportunities.” 

Beat Beetle Epidemic

The same pride Driskill has in the long-term management of the BHNF appears to extend to Neiman Enterprises and its role in his district. 

“The reason we got ahead of this (beetle) epidemic in the Black Hills was all three of those mills … ran right as hard as they could to harvest dead and dying bug trees, which allowed us to open that canopy up and get control of the bugs,” said Driskill. “Consequently, we still have a green forest.”  

Further highlighting the importance of the timber industry to forest management, Driskill drew a direct connection between shuttered sawmills and diseased forests. 

“As the sawmills closed and forest management dropped timber density, increased and bugs and disease and fire came in,” said Driskill. “Now, we spend more budget in the Forest Service fighting fires than we do managing timber. That’s a travesty.” 

For two days, Driskill sat in meetings with representatives from Wyoming and South Dakota going over the proposed forest assessment for BHNF. The plan is flawed and “unbelievably biased,” he said, and is based on outdated information. 

“It really is an unbelievably, poorly written document. It was written by someone that has not been in the hills and has cited lots of data that was old, lots of places they didn’t cite anything and a lot of places they did pre-decisional determinations that has nothing to do with an assessment,” said Driskill. “I feel like we’re on a railroad train for disaster in the Hills.” 

Economic Impact

While the ecological impacts cannot be overstated, it seems, the economic impact is still one to consider. 

“The hits are incredible as sawmills are a lot like ranches. Virtually everything they do supports the industries that go with them. When you pull a shift off, that affects the part store in Sundance. The money just spreads everywhere locally. They’re a huge local business,” said Driskill. 

“The first hit, obviously, is the people and their wages and that’s extremely important but it also supports all kinds of other jobs,” he continued. “When the mill’s not running, you’re not breaking things down and the amount of money they spend on maintenance and upkeep and equipment replacement is phenomenal.” 

The impact will go beyond the normal, day-to-day wear and tear on equipment, said Driskill. According to the senator, the impact may also be felt in the electric bills of people in his district because of the co-operative setup of the Powder River Energy Corporation. 

“I believe, outside of the coal mines, they’re one of PRE-Corp’s (Powder River Energy Corporation) largest customers and when you shut everything off for a shift, you’re not using any electricity and that trickles on down,” said Driskill. “We’re a co-op and they help pay everybody’s bills.” 

Fighting Back

Wudtke said the economic impact, especially to a community like Hulett,  population 309, cannot be ignored if the limited production at the sawmill continues. 

“As an industry, we’re really here for the forest,” said Wudtke. “Neiman Timber, among other companies, are multi-generational family businesses and caring for the forest is our first priority.” 

Driskill, meanwhile, encourages public involvement in the current revision to the forest plan for the BHNF. 

“If the public does not step up and strongly voice their opinion, you can be assured we’re going to get a Democratic, Biden Administration, eastern attitude on how we manage our forests,” he said.

“It sounds wonderful to make more trees grow and to get bigger trees and let’s make for better habitat,” he continued. “That really sounds good right up ‘til the day the bugs come through or the forest fire comes and does that massive release of carbons.” 

And for Driskill, it’s hard not to take the timber sale reduction personally. 

“They’re truly messing with the entire livelihood of everybody that lives in my district.” 

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Wyoming Energy Industry Applauds Supreme Court Ruling That Diminishes EPA Authority

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

A U.S. Supreme Court decision reducing the ability of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to restrict emissions from Wyoming power plants was welcomed Thursday by members of the state’s energy industry.

The 6-3 Supreme Court decision found that the EPA does not have authority to force power producers to switch to power sources other than fossil fuels as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision today simply because it is reining in unelected bureaucrats’ decision-making power that had been abdicated by Congress,” said Ryan McConnaughey, vice president and director of communications for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. “We believe this reins in regulations made by those who don’t answer to the people.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., in the majority opinion, said Congress never intended to give such authority to the EPA.

“Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crises of the day,’” he wrote. “(But)  a decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.”

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by West Virginia and other states challenging EPA rules the agency said gave it the authority to determine the “best system of emission reduction” for pollution reduction. According to the ruling, the EPA based emissions caps for producers on the concept of changing the fuel used by power providers  from coal to natural gas and renewable sources such as wind and solar power.

The court decided it is the role of Congress to address specific regulations when it grants federal agencies the right to address major political and economic issues.

But Bryan Shuman, director of the University of Wyoming-National Park Service Research Center in Grand Teton National Park, said passing such decisions off to Congress is a mistake.

Congress has been largely deadlocked in recent years, Shuman said, so the decision will keep the country at a standstill in its efforts to combat climate change.

“It’s unfortunate to have what seemed to be a straightforward tool in the Clean Air Act, to have that ability restricted,” he said.

The court’s three liberal justices argued the decision strips the EPA of its power to effectively respond to the issue.

“Whatever else this court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan. “The stakes here are high. Yet the court today prevents congressionally authorized agency action to curb power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions.

CO2 emissions have been on the decline in America since 2007. In 2019, Wyoming ranked 33rd in the nation for total emissions output, a 7.4% decline from the previous year, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

McConnaughey said Wyoming producers have been able to increase their production while decreasing overall emissions thanks to technological upgrades.

Wyoming is still the nation’s largest polluter per capita when it comes to carbon emissions and the largest energy producer per capita. Coal burned by the electricity producers is Wyoming’s largest source of pollution, responsible for 61% of the state’s overall emissions. 

Wyoming is also the nation’s largest coal producer, responsible for 39% of the nation’s total supply.

The Supreme Court’s decision preemptively strikes down regulation that does not yet exist. Former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016 and then former President Donald Trump’s plan to relax restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions was struck down by a federal appeals court on the last day of his administration. 

The EPA has not issued any new regulations and the Clean Power Plan has never been reinstated, which would have forced utilities to move away from coal and toward renewable energy to reduce emissions. 

The decision was praised by U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis.

“The Supreme Court’s decision today rightfully reins in unreasonable and unlawful attempts to shut down American power plants and energy production,” Barrasso said. “For years, Democrats have used overreaching Environmental Protection Agency regulations to side-step Congress and the American people to enact their extreme climate agenda.”

“Domestic energy production has been under constant attack by both the (President Joe) Biden and (former President Barak) Obama Administrations, and I’m glad the Supreme Court ruled the Clean Air Act does not give the EPA the power to decide unilaterally what fuels power plants can and cannot use,” Lummis said in her own release. “The EPA under those administrations completely overstepped its authority by circumventing Congress to target oil, natural gas, and coal producers.” 

Also supporting the decision was Gov. Mark Gordon, who had directed the state to join West Virginia in the lawsuit.

“Today’s decision recognizes that innovation, not regulation, is a key to a prosperous future and a healthier environment,” he said. “The legal authority to regulate emissions properly lies with Congress and the states, not an overzealous federal bureaucracy insulated from practical accountability.

However, Shuman, who co-authored a climate study attributing critical changes to Wyoming watersheds to declining snowpack and warming temperatures, said the Supreme Court decision moves the country in the wrong direction.

The summer of 2021 was a record-breaking year for wildfires, with several different fires occurring in Wyoming. Shuman said he personally knew people who had their homes burned down.

“My house is literally on fire and the Supreme Court is telling us we can’t reach for the tools at hand to deal with it,” Shuman said.

The EPA will still regulate the energy industry and be able to implement emission controls at individual power plants. 

Shuman said there needs to be more incentive programs initiated on a national and state level to help curb overall carbon emissions.

“We need to release the free market in their ability to respond,” he said. “We shouldn’t be wanting to over prescribe for the solution. We need to provide the market solutions for solving these problems.”

McConnaughey said his industry would be interested in working with state and federal agencies to develop a framework that could provide incentives to companies that decrease their emissions.

In a Thursday afternoon press release, McConnaughey also said the Supreme Court decision directly pertains to the Bureau of Land Management’s second quarter lease sale.

He said Wyoming producers leased 67,628 acres for $12.9 million at this sale – an amount exceeding the federal taxes paid by 840 Amerians.

The average price per acre was $229.95 and the highest priced lease sold at $6,018 per acre – generating more revenue than the entire 2020 second quarter lease sale. 

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Human Poop Contaminating Two Jackson-Area Creeks, Says Grad Student

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A University of Wyoming graduate student is preparing to submit her findings about human waste being the main source of contamination in two creeks in the Jackson area.

Kelsey Ruehling’s graduate research has been focused on discovering the source of fecal bacterial contamination in Flat and Fish creeks in Teton County.

“We’re seeing really high loads of bacteria in the surface water that is associated with wastewater,” Ruehling told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “What I saw in both creeks was this pattern of wastewater-associated bacteria increasing during moments when the streams were rising, likely attributed to increased flows from groundwater.”

In 2020, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality said Fish Creek and at least a portion of Flat Creek were considered impaired due to high concentrations of E. coli, an intestinal bacteria. Most strains of E. coli are harmless, but there are some that cause stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea.

When high levels of E. coli are found in water, it is an indicator of sewage or animal waste contamination, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Due to these high levels of the bacteria, the creeks are not considered safe for swimming by DEQ.

For her research, Ruehling sought the source of the contamination. She believes it is due to old sewer lines and septic systems that sit near groundwater flows, at least for the human waste aspect.

She also discovered fecal bacteria from dogs, cows, goose, moose and horses.

Ruehling is not making any recommendations to state or local officials with her work, but instead wants to present them with unbiased, scientific research and let them make their own decisions on how to best address the contamination in the two creeks.

“I think having this really high temporal and spatial data can help these watersheds identify where the problems might be, what is the most serious and where they should put their time, money and attention into mitigating bacteria,” she said.

Ruehling will present her findings to her thesis committee at the university next week. She recently presented her work in Jackson to city and county officials.

In May, a nonprofit organization called Protect Our Water Jackson Hole was launched in an effort to improve and protect Jackson’s water quality, which would include both Flat and Fish creeks.

The organization is particularly focused on reducing nutrients in the area’s water that comes from sources such as wastewater, fertilizer, pets and livestock through countywide solutions.

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Wyoming Water In Demand In Efforts To Save Lake Powell But 51% Of Wyo In Severe Drought

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

Water levels on the Colorado River are at their lowest point in 1,200 years and the water in the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Southwest Wyoming is being used to help replenish the parched river and Lake Powell downstream.

“It just keeps getting worse,” Chris Brown, legal counsel for the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office told the Legislature’s Water Committee at its May 11 meeting. “We’ve been incredibly active trying to prop up critical elevations at Lake Powell so we don’t lose hydropower … so we don’t risk the infrastructure at Lake Powell.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced it is releasing an extra 500,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge to help maintain hydroelectric operations at Lake Powell. 

A separate, seven-state agreement was also arranged to reduce outflows from Lake Powell to 7 million acre-feet, an “unprecedented” level, Brown said.

“A lot of work is taking place to rescue Lake Powell,” Brown said. 

Releases from Flaming Gorge were boosted to 1,800 cubic feet per second — an increase of 850 cfs — on May 5 and will continue until further notice.

Lake Powell’s water content is currently at 24% of capacity and 35 feet below where it sat one year ago. 

The lake’s decline is triggering a potential energy crisis for millions of people who rely on its Glen Canyon Dam as a power source, and who may see rising energy costs and water shortages if drought conditions persist. 

Wyoming itself is in a period of extremely dry conditions. According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, 100% of Wyoming is abnormally dry right now and 51.3% of the state is facing a severe drought.

Although Flaming Gorge is doing much better than Lake Powell, the amount of water it holds is also well below capacity. As of May 5, the water level in Flaming Gorge Reservoir sat at 6,018.85 feet, approximately 78% of its overall capacity. Unregulated water flows into the reservior in April were 52% of average.

Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, vice chair of the water committee, said Gov. Mark Gordon’s Colorado River Working Group is discussing development of a pilot water conservation program to store water for the future in Wyoming.

The Colorado River Basin includes the Upper Green and Snake River basins in Wyoming.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is predicting that by 2026 there may be a federal drawback of water on the Colorado. Hicks said the working group has been exploring alternate solutions to reduce water consumption or institute a demand management program to avoid this scenario.

Brandon Gebhart, Wyoming state engineer, said there are other options being examined involving two-year limited use agreements on water from the river system. 

Fated Long Ago

Brown said Wyoming’s obligation to help the Southwest meet its water demands stems back to the 100-year old Colorado River Compact, established in 1922. 

The agreement divides states along the Colorado River System into upper and lower basins. Wyoming is a member of the upper basin.

Under the agreement, each basin is allocated 7.5 million acre-feet of water annually out from the Colorado River. 

An acre-foot of water is the amount of water needed to cover 1 acre of land with 1 foot of water, about 326,000 gallons.

A later agreement developed in 1948 established water allotments among the upper basin states based on the percentage of water available. 

Brown said under a 1944 agreement with Mexico, in the event of a deficiency to that country’s portion of Colorado River water, it is the upper basin’s responsibility to provide it with 750,000 acre-feet of water.

But Brown said if the upper basin runs the risk of violating the 1922 obligation, Wyoming and the rest of the upper basin states may be forced to curtail their use of water. 

This decision, he said, would be enacted by the Upper Colorado River Commission, an interstate agency made up by representatives from Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and an agent from the federal government. Brown said a reduction in allowed water use might even be put in place ahead of a shortage so the 1922 agreement is not violated.

“We might have to curtail those uses to make sure that we comply,” he said.

Hicks said the biggest question moving forward is whether Wyoming could develop a system to store its water forward for years, if not decades, into the future. Colorado is a state that has already developed a number of water banking programs to do just that.

“Do we have the regulatory framework to go ahead and establish a water bank?” Hicks said.

Brown said a pilot conservation program run from 2015 to 2018 showed that some Wyoming residents are willing to give up water in exchange for payment. Hicks said a system similar to this could theoretically be deployed in the future.

“There very well could be adequate statutory and regulatory mechanisms to address any of these hypothetical programs that are being discussed,” Hicks said. “This issue is out there. It’s going to loom even greater in the coming years.”

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Colorado Engineer Blasts EPA For Blaming Denver Smog On Wyoming

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Saying Colorado hasn’t done enough to protect its own air quality, a chemical engineer is calling foul on the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency for blaming Wyoming for part of Denver’s smog problem.  

“There is no possible way for EPA to justify forcing Wyoming to take action to reduce ozone in Colorado, when EPA has never required Colorado to take any action to reduce ozone within the state,” Barney Strobel, a retired chemical engineer in Centennial, Colorado, wrote in a letter to Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon.  

EPA Region 8 officials did not respond Thursday morning to voicemails requesting comment.  

The EPA last month announced its intention to launch a federal pollution control plan for Wyoming, due to its estimation that emissions from Wyoming, blown south by its strong winds, contribute about 1% to Denver-area ground ozone.

The EPA’s proposed “Good Neighbor” policy would enable it to further restrict emissions in upwind states like Wyoming due to their projected contribution to smog in states like Colorado.  

Gordon had dispatched a statement of his own in March deriding the policy change and vowing to fight it, although he has not specified how.

Strobel, who worked in air quality for 12 years, said in his letter to Gordon that the EPA has taken an unrealistic leap in blaming Wwyoming for Colorado’s ground ozone.

Colorado’s Air Quality 

The EPA has deemed Colorado’s Denver-Chatfield region a “serious” air quality offender, but is soon to downgrade the area to a “severe” designation, which will bring additional permitting requirements for businesses and higher gas prices to Colorado. 

These gestures, said Strobel, can’t be guaranteed to reduce ozone, because the hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue generated by the fees are not committed to ozone reduction and can be used for any purpose.

Strobel also noted that ozone readings at three Colorado monitors have not changed significantly over 30 years of tracking, except for fluctuations amid wildfires and other events, according to an EPA chart. Strobel called this a sign of the ineffectiveness of the pollution control attempts touted by Colorado so far.  

For example, he said, a 2011 pollution control plan by Colorado contained “only one federally-enforceable program,” which was to reduce emissions from condensate tanks at oil and gas facilities.  

The move didn’t reduce ozone, Strobel said, referencing the chart.  

Yet the EPA’s satisfaction with Colorado’s ineffective pollution control plans, wrote Strobel, makes the agency’s proposed enforcement against Wyoming appear “malicious.”  

“Since ozone has not dropped, even though the state agencies claim that precursors (contributing chemicals) have dropped by more than 43%,” he continued, “it is clear that the state agencies do not have an accurate emissions inventory.”  

Argument For Governor 

Strobel said he also doubts the accuracy of the models underpinning EPA’s focus on upwind states.  

Aiming to equip Gordon for a debate with the EPA, Strobel wrote in his letter that the inaccuracy window in EPA’s projections is about 10 times larger than the value used to incriminate Wyoming on Colorado’s behalf.  

“EPA states that the average difference between the projected values and the actual values is 7.79 ppb (parts per billion of ozone-contributing chemicals),” reads Strobel’s letter to the governor.  

Wyoming’s likely inclusion in the “Good Neighbor” restrictions is due to its projected 0.81 ppb contribution to Colorado’s total ground ozone, which is projected to be 71.7 ppb in 2023.  

“If the model cannot project values with any more accuracy than 7.79 ppb for Chatfield,” wrote Strobel, “it is absurd for EPA to suggest that they can project that 0.81 ppb will come from Wyoming.”  

If Wyoming’s projected contribution had been below 0.7 ppb, the state would not fall under the “Good Neighbor” restrictions.  

“With such poor accuracy,” continued Strobel, “it is also absurd for EPA to claim that they can distinguish between 0.81 ppb and the 0.7 ppb threshold for requiring action.”  

Wyoming Wind 

Strobel said he further doubts the accuracy of the monitor that measures Wyoming’s contribution to Colorado’s ozone problem because other monitors “lined up” north to south of it registered projected contributions from Wyoming totaling half as much.  

“Whether the ozone from Wyoming is supposed to be moving south from Cheyenne or coming from the west over the mountains, at most,” Strobel said, “the concentration of ozone from Wyoming will be the same as at (another monitor) just 14 miles north.” 

The monitor in question is also farther than Wyoming from the other two monitors projecting safer ozone values, Strobel noted.   

“There is no possible way that the concentration of ozone from Wyoming can be 0.46 ppb at (the other two monitors) and then somehow magically increase by 75% to 0.81 ppb south” of there, he wrote.  

Another inaccuracy, Strobel posited, is found in the model’s failure to consider volatile organic compounds from plants, which interact with nitrogen oxides to create ozone and are, he said, three times more plentiful in Colorado than man-made VOC.  

“Since the model does not even consider the most probable ozone reaction, there is no justification for claiming that the model can project contributions from upwind sources with an accuracy of two decimal places,” Strobel added.  

A spokesman for Gordon’s office confirmed on Thursday that the governor has received Strobel’s letter but said he has not yet had a chance to review it personally. 

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EPA Denies Sinclair’s Exemption For Ethanol Content

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

One of Wyoming’s three oil refineries is among 36 nationally to have its request to be exempted from biofuel blending rules refused.

Documents filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals showed the Sinclair Refinery near Rawlins applied with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for an exemption from the rules, but the application was denied April 7.

While the state’s other two refineries, Sinclair Casper Refining Co. and the Wyoming Refining Co., in Newcastle are listed in the court documents with Sinclair Refinery, there is no way to tell if they asked for the exemption.

Oil refineries are required to blend a certain amount of soybean or corn-derived fuel into their gasoline product under the Renewable Fuel Standard administered by the EPA, or, in the alternative, purchase compliance credits.

Small refineries, those processing less than 75,000 barrels of crude oil a day, can claim the biofuel requirements pose a “disproportionate economic hardship” and seek an exemption.

All three of Wyoming’s crude oil refineries meet the production requirements aspects of this waiver. 

The 36 refineries addressed in the EPA’s decision had all asked for exemptions for the 2018 production year. The exemptions were granted in 2019, but in 2020, a federal court adopted much more stringent rules facilities had to meet to qualify. 

One Wyoming refinery, HollyFrontier in Cheyenne, stopped processing crude oil and is transitioning to full biofuel production, a move that led to the layoff of 200 workers in 2020.

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, in an opinion piece in “The Hill,” said HollyFrontier’s decision was influenced by the plant’s loss of its exemption to the blending requirement.

“Many small refineries seek these small refinery exemptions annually,” Lummis wrote. “To remain competitive, they have no other choice. The cost of compliance credits is commonly their second-highest production expense, trailing only the cost of crude oil.”

Lummis also spoke on the poor timing of the decision in relation to rising gas prices. She said the compliance credits within the Renewable Fuel Standard program add 30 cents to 50 cents to the cost of a gallon of gasoline.

Lummis said the EPA has also indicated it will deny all requests for exemptions for production years from 2019 to 2021.

Decisions against the exemptions further limit the ability of American refineries to meet demand for gasoline, said Ryan McConnaughey, director of communications for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.

“We still see an increase in demand for petroleum products in Wyoming and across the globe,” McConnaughey told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “The recent increases in gas prices show the need for production.”

However, the biofuel and petroleum industries are at odds over the blending rules.

The Renewable Fuels Association, in a statement about the EPA’s decision to deny the exemptions, said the exemptions address past wrongs by refineries, but the EPA’s decision did not do enough to remedy economic problems created by the exemptions in the past.

The RFA also opposed the EPA’s plan to give 31 of the refineries whose exemptions were rejected an alternative to buying compliance credits.

To receive relief, the 31 refiners must resubmit compliance reports for 2018 and report their fuel production for that year and other data.

“EPA is granting this compliance flexibility because the agency has determined that there are extenuating circumstances specific to this set of petitions, including the fact that SRE petitions were previously granted,” the department said in its SRE announcement.

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Cheyenne Air Quality Ranked Best In Country

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Photo Credit: Matthew Idler

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Cheyenne’s ranking atop an annual “report card” on the nation’s air quality is no surprise to the state’s environmental agency.

Keith Guille, a spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, said he was not surprised that the American Lung Association rated Cheyenne as having the nation’s cleanest air.

“Historically, Cheyenne and Casper have been in the top of (the ALA’s report) in recent years,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “In Wyoming, as we all know, we have a lot of clear skies and blue skies and we’re always proud of that.”

Following Cheyenne in the ALA’s annual “State of the Air” report in sixth place was Casper. Both cities won their rankings because of their low year-round pollution created by soot, also called “particle pollution.”

Guille said the state’s sparse population and its restrictions on its own industries has helped keep pollution at a minimum.

“We are big state with a small population and that helps with emissions and whatnot,” he said. “When you look at our oil and gas development, we’ve been really progressive working with the industry and the public to have control over those minor (pollution) sources.”

Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins credited Wyoming’s wind for the city’s high ranking.

“Because of our blustery Wyoming wind, Cheyenne residents are more than happy to lay claim our air quality is superb,” he said in a statement to Cowboy State Daily. “Now we have the data to prove it. I can’t think of anything more vital to a community’s health and vitality than clean air.”

The ranking comes despite the fact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is blaming Wyoming for contributing a little more than 1% to the smog found over Denver.

Guille had no explanation for the apparent disparity.

“You might want to ask the feds on that,” he said.

While the ALA reported much of the rest of the state did well in terms of pollution, it gave Jackson an “F” for its particle pollution.

Jackson Town Administrator Larry Pardee did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Other grades for particle pollution ranged from A in Converse and Sweetwater counties to C in Albany, Fremont, Natrona and Park counties.

In addition, only 11 counties, fewer than half of the state’s 23, had equipment to detect particle pollution that was monitored by the ALA.

The ALA’s report also examined ozone ground pollution and 12 counties received a grade of C or better.

However, Sublette County again received an F for its 16 days of ground ozone levels above recommended standards — 13 days where ozone levels were considered unhealthy for sensitive populations and three days of generally unhealthy conditions .

While other cities around the country had worse rankings for ozone pollution, Sublette County’s is unusual because it appears in a rural area during the winter, Guille said.

He added most of the areas with high ground ozone levels are urban and the biggest problems appear in the summer.

However, he added the state and the area’s oil and gas industry have made progress in recent years in reducing annual ozone levels.

“We’ve been working with the public and industry since 2004 and 2005 to tackle this,” Guille said. “In the last couple of years these numbers have been under the standards, which is good. This year we did not see those high ozone levels.”

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EPA Blames Wyoming For Denver Pollution Despite Contributing 1% Of Smog Emissions

in Environment/News

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to swap Wyoming’s emission standards for its own more stringent rules because of Wyoming’s contribution to Denver pollution.

The EPA, in an April 6 report, said Wyoming contributes up to 0.8 parts per billion to the Denver-Chatfield area “smog” — just more than 1%.

As a result, the agency wants to enact its “Good Neighbor” mandates that would allow it to place tougher greenhouse gas restrictions on Wyoming and several other states which contribute 1% or more to ozone pollution in “downwind” states.

The EPA early this month deemed the Denver-Chatfield area a “severe” violator of federal ozone, or smog, standards – a downgrade from its prior status of “serious” violation.  

Ground ozone, a bonding of three oxygen molecules, is considered a pollutant and, according to the EPA, can harm humans and the environment.   

Some of Colorado’s heavy smog, the EPA declared this month, wafted in on Wyoming winds.  

‘Good Neighbor’ Mandates 

The Denver-Chatfield area’s poor grade came just weeks after the EPA in March announced its revival of stringent air quality limitations from 2015.  

The stricter standards also brought back the “Good Neighbor” mandates – an EPA bid to place tougher greenhouse-gas restrictions on Wyoming and several other states. 

Pending a comment period that ends June 6, Wyoming may be required to limit emissions from its power plants and industrial manufacturing sites.  

Coal-fired power plants, trona operations, and natural gas pipelines all were identified by Gov. Mark Gordon as “targets” of the EPA policy.  

California Sends More Smog 

According to 2020 data from an EPA monitoring device located in the Denver-Chatfield area, Wyoming’s wind is projected next year to contribute about 0.81 parts per billion – just over the “Good Neighbor” threshold of 0.7 ppb.  

Colorado’s other two receptors registered about 0.4 parts per billion, or 0.6% of its total smog as Wyoming-made.  

Wyoming’s projected contributions to other states – Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Utah and Connecticut – were negligible in comparison to its influence on Colorado.   

In the same projection, California was expected nearly to double Wyoming’s chemical share of Colorado’s smog by contributing about 3 parts per billion to Colorado.  

California also is expected to export about 40 times Wyoming’s ozone-chemical output nationwide, with 34 ppb total ozone-chemicals export.   

Predictions for 2023 show Colorado making most of its own ozone pollutants, getting just 7% of them from upwind sources.  

Federal, Not State Implementation 

Gov. Mark Gordon in a March statement called the “Good Neighbor” mandate an “attack on state-led approaches” moving “more authority away from the people to Washington, DC.”  

Gordon also said the plan targets Wyoming and other Western energy-producing states, and seeks to penalize their energy industries.  

“It will harm states like Wyoming who meet ozone standards and benefit more populous states that use our energy but do not meet their own standards,” Gordon continued. “EPA’s proposal does not ‘follow the science’ or the law and will unjustly discriminate against Wyoming industries.” 

Gordon said he would work “aggressively” to combat the plan.  

When EPA announced the mandate, it claimed that the restrictions on both problem states and their upwind neighbors could prevent about 1,000 premature deaths and avoid more than 2,000 hospital and emergency room visits, 1.3 million cases of asthma symptoms, and 470,000 school absence days. 

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Biden’s 30 x 30 Initiative Likely Meaningless According To Wyo Public Lands Expert

in Wyoming outdoors/News

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming may not need to opt out of an environmental initiative proposed by President Joe Biden as neighboring state Montana has done, according to a public lands expert.

Karen Budd-Falen told Cowboy State Daily that because Biden issued an executive order for his “30×30” conservation initiative, the plan does not have the full force or effect of law, so there is really no way to opt in or out of the proposal.

“The biggest problem with 30×30 is nobody knows what the heck it is,” she said. “You can’t find anybody who can tell you what 30×30 is.”

Biden issued an executive order not long after taking office intended to tackle climate change. With this initiative, he established a national goal to conserve at least 30% of U.S. lands and freshwater and 30% of U.S. oceans areas by 2030.

The initiative is intended to reverse the negative impacts of climate change by protecting more natural areas and to increase access to nature for communities that lack it.

Last week, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte announced that the state declined to participate in the “30×30” initiative, saying the plan was “long on philosophy and short on detail.”

Gianforte’s administration pointed out last week that to achieve the 30% goal, another 440 million acres would need to be put into conservation, which is nearly five times the size of Montana.

Gov. Mark Gordon’s spokesman Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily last week that he had heard no mention of Gordon choosing to not participate in the initiative.

Regardless of whether the initiative can be enforced, Budd-Falen, who is well-versed in multiple land use, said the problem remains the fact that no one truly understands it, including the Biden adminsitration.

“Personally, I’m opposed to turning over any more lands to federal management,” she told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “I think Wyoming citizens do a very good job of managing our lands. I think the idea that we’re going to eliminate all use and not have these federal lands generating revenue is going to bankrupt the state.”

Former U.S. Bureau of Land Management acting Director William Perry Pendley told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that the federal government would just be locking up more land with the initiative.

“The way the federal lands have been managed under Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and now Joe Biden, they’ve been managed for a single purpose, rather than multiple use,” Pendley said. “Biden’s administration is talking about some federal designation over public and private land, and we can’t afford that right now. We’re already in a desperate situation because of Biden.”

The federal government currently owns about 48.2% of the land in Wyoming, a little more than 30 million acres.

Pendley said that Gianforte was doing the best thing for the people of Montana by choosing to not participate in the initiative.

“It’s just a Trojan horse for more land lockup,” he said.

Currently, the U.S. Geological Survey reports around 12% of U.S. land is in conservation status. To achieve 30% by 2030, another 440 million acres would need to be put into conservation, an area nearly five times the size of Montana.

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