Final Week: The Legislature Has Important Work to Do

On Mon. Mar. 5, Richard Garrett, Jr. of the Wyoming Outdoor Council wrote about the remaining week of the 2012 Legislative Session, focusing on bills that affect Wyoming’s outdoor heritage:

Permits, wildlife, and invasive species

Today, March 5, marks the beginning of the last week of Wyoming’s 2012 legislative session and there are still important bills under consideration and issues to resolve.

It’s going to be a very eventful week in the legislature. The action will be fast and the way bills are amended, or not amended, will make crucial differences to how we work on the issues in this state.

Still trying to improve the general permitting bill

One bill that we’ve been following (since its hasty creation two days before the session began) is Senate File 85, “General permits.”

As introduced, it would have dismantled a victory that the Wyoming Outdoor Council won in district court last year regarding the way the state’s Department of Environmental Quality issues water discharge permits for coalbed methane development.

The Outdoor Council’s watershed protection program attorney, Steve Jones, argued successfully that the DEQ’s one-size-fits-all approach to produced water permits in coalbed methane fields of the Powder River Basin was not only bad for the environment but also legally flawed.

This bill would have done an end-run around the judicial process by allowing the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to resume its “business as usual” and “streamlined” approach to the issuance of general permits for a variety of activities including produced water from coalbed methane projects, storm water discharge, gravel pits, and a possible slew of new developments including in-situ uranium processing, underground coal refining, and landfills.

Public input on locally specific discharges would have been severely restricted.

The bill was amended in the Senate in a way that restored the opportunity of the public to comment on the authorization of permits (special thanks are due to Sen. John Schiffer for this amendment).

Unfortunately, this amendment has been eliminated in the House and many of the problems of the original bill have been magnified with a substitute amendment.

The Wyoming Outdoor Council is working with our colleagues in the conservation community to remove this amendment and to restore the Schiffer amendment.

If we are unable to find sufficient support for this, we will ask representatives and senators to vote against the bill.

Urging strong support for Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust bill

A bill that we are actively supporting is Senate File 42, which would provide funding for large projects that have been approved by Wyoming’s Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust. Gov. Matt Mead and a broad coalition of legislators also support this bill.

The Wyoming State Legislature is rightfully proud of creating the Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust and of the ongoing strong support by Wyoming voters and elected officials for this fund.

This year the Legislature has the unique opportunity to leverage for dimes on the dollar unused and unallocated federal funds to help protect some of Wyoming’s most important ranch land and to continue the stewardship that generations of ranchers have practiced.

The bonus is that with passage of this bill we, as a state, will prove in yet another way our commitment to protecting—without a federal threat to our primacy—the sage grouse.

The Wyoming Outdoor Council (working in coordination with a number of stakeholders and conservation partners) strongly supports this bill. We are actively engaged in lobbying for its passage.

Addressing aquatic invasive species

A third bill that we are encouraging legislators to vote for is Senate File 71, which seeks to address the threat that zebra mussels, an aquatic invasive species, pose to agriculture and tourism.

If we as a state fail to continue our successful fight against this and other aquatic invasive species the financial consequence could be profound.

We are asking legislators to resist any attempt to reduce funding for this bill and to vote in favor of protecting one of our most important resources—Wyoming’s water.

As always, the engagement of our members is crucial to our success. We will work to keep you informed and up to date.

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Published on March 6, 2012

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