CHEYENNE (WTE)– Gov. Mark Gordon announced steps he is taking in an effort to expand Wyoming’s economic recovery in a release Thursday, highlighting a series of proposals and initiatives to bolster the state’s energy, tourism and agriculture sectors.
Highlighting an “all of the above” energy industry, Gordon aims to redouble his efforts to protect the state’s energy and mining industries, which are the largest providers of Wyoming’s revenues and have enormous impacts on the state’s wider employment trends.
Gordon’s effort became even more important after last week’s announcement by the Biden administration pausing any new oil and gas leases on federal lands. The governor supports legislation granting severance tax relief to the oil and natural gas industry, specifically House Bill 11, as well as bills enhancing the ability of the newly created Wyoming Energy Authority to encourage development of carbon capture technology, trona, rare earth elements and critical minerals.
“The energy and mining sectors are the major pillars of our economy, and they have provided the wherewithal that gives this nation the luxury of looking to new forms of energy,” Gordon said in a statement. “Let me be clear. Our traditional industries will adapt and continue to provide the reliable, affordable and dispatchable power they always have, only better. Our economic recovery will hinge on the health of these industries and their ability to adapt to changing market demands. Wyoming can continue to grow, even as our mix of energy supplies evolve.
“While some are suggesting the early demise of coal – and right now, it faces many challenges – we believe that coal, coupled with new technologies, is an essential part of the solution to reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere,” Gordon continued. “Carbon capture and the development of carbon byproducts will be part of Wyoming’s energy future. So, too, should be efforts to research extracting the rare earth elements and critical minerals associated with coal that will be needed for the batteries powering the anticipated worldwide build-out of wind and solar power.”
Tourism continues to be a major driver of the state’s economy and employs the most Wyomingites. 2020 brought in record numbers of visitors, supporting Wyoming businesses and sustaining jobs for residents. House Bill 58, sponsored by the Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee, would allow for a $1.1 million general fund reduction to Wyoming State Parks, with little to no impact to customer service or safety by allowing them to use self-generated funds (fees) to a greater degree for operations and outdoor recreation, rather than capital construction.
“Our state parks provide world-class experiences and opportunities for tourists and residents alike and saw a statewide increase of roughly 36% in visitation last year, a trend that is expected to continue into 2021,” Gordon said. “It’s critical to ensure we continue to properly fund these parks and historic sites, which play a critical role in our state’s economy.”
Multiple bills related to meat processing are being considered by the Wyoming Legislature, and the governor is working with lawmakers to expand processing capacity in the state.
“This is only a part of an ambitious initiative focused on adding value to products across the entire spectrum of agricultural enterprise,” Gordon said. “This effort is essential to grow this key part of our economy.”
Of particular interest to both the governor and to first lady Jennie Gordon is House Bill 52, sponsored by the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee. Not only would this bill help school districts increase Wyoming meat products in school nutrition programs, it would also provide another opportunity to feed those children who do not get enough to eat every day, a major emphasis of the first lady’s Wyoming Hunger Initiative.
Gordon also welcomed the passage of House Bill 53 on Thursday. The legislation would implement several of the recommendations made in the final report of the governor’s Invasive Species Initiative and allow local districts more latitude when implementing special management programs for invasive species.
Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, are developing a bill to improve the Wyoming Attorney General’s civil enforcement authority in antitrust matters, providing a much-needed update to the state statute meant to ensure fair competition within Wyoming’s marketplace.
In 2020, Wyoming ranchers were adversely impacted by consolidations and acquisitions within the broader agriculture industry. However, the state was barred from investigating these actions because current state antitrust laws do not allow the attorney general to investigate potential violations.
Barlow and Nethercott’s bill ensures that Wyoming will not need to rely on other states or the federal government to assert residents’ interests in a competitive market that benefits businesses and consumers alike. The bill will not only benefit the agriculture industry, but will ensure fair competition across all markets in Wyoming, Gordon said.
“Protecting our ranching and agricultural community is more important now than ever with Wyoming’s challenging economic outlook,” Nethercott said in a statement. “The market manipulation we have seen this past year highlighting our nation’s meat prices is harmful to Wyoming producers and consumers. I am proud to sponsor this bill to empower our attorney general to act first in protecting all of Wyoming’s industries and consumers from these unlawful practices.”