CHEYENNE – Faced with the reality of a declining coal market, the Wyoming Legislature is continuing to search for ways to help sustain one of the biggest drivers of the state’s economy and budget.
A small step in that direction was taken Friday as the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee voted to support a bill during the 2020 session to put $1 million toward a marketing program for Wyoming coal.
Beyond just extolling the virtues of Powder River Basin Coal and its low sulfur content, the program will allow Gov. Mark Gordon to ensure Wyoming’s voice is at the table on decisions across the country that affect the state’s bottom line, said Renny MacKay, Gordon’s senior policy adviser, during the Friday meeting in Casper.
MacKay said the executive branch, working with the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, can use the funding to work to make sure all sides of the argument are being presented. Just one example, MacKay said, is the funding will allow Wyoming to present the other side in a potential closure of a coal-fired power plant in Indiana that uses Powder River Basin coal.
That closure could cost the state about $10 million in revenue annually, MacKay said.
“This (bill’s) funding is important. There had been an account that was funded previously by the Legislature. So thank you for that, you have been active with the executive branch in the past,” MacKay said.
“(Currently) there is no reserve for the executive branch working with the Infrastructure Authority to be nimble in those areas where we can promote and defend the industry. As much the industry as Wyoming interests, that are so closely tied to the industry.”
Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, said the fund would be a good asset for Gordon while trying to help create stability in the state’s core industry.
“This is a good tool to give our new governor, who was faced with some significant issues very early on in his administration,” Greear said.
Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, voted to support the bill, but said he didn’t think the issue facing Wyoming’s coal industry was marketing. It was an access to markets, like those in the Pacific Rim countries that Wyoming can’t reach without an export terminal in the Pacific Northwest.
Another coal-related bill that the Minerals Committee decided to lay over until its next meeting is one to create the Wyoming Energy Commercialization Program. The program, which would be funded up to $155 million annually through severance tax, would assist in projects that provide opportunities to preserve and enhance development of Wyoming’s energy resources and energy industry.
The fund would allow the state to help promote projects like carbon capture, coal-based products and other economic opportunities. But the committee decided to wait to learn more about all the opportunities currently being explored at the University of Wyoming and elsewhere before crafting a bill to help fund those projects.
The Minerals Committee also requested a bill draft to address ways to include the economic impacts of coal-fired power plant closures on communities and employees as factors for the Wyoming Public Service Commission to consider when working with utilities to set rates.