Two recent announcements from the federal government illustrate and exacerbate the inherent and long-standing tension between Wyoming’s natural-resource-based economy and ill conceived, nonsensical federal policy.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced this month that it would resume federal oil and gas lease sales — including multiple parcels in Wyoming — although in a much-reduced capacity compared to times past. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, it is a marked reduction to what the federal government could be doing and has done before.
Federal lease sales follow a specific process: the BLM announces a sale in a particular area, those interested in leasing in the area nominate specific parcels, and after review of the nominations, the BLM offers some of the nominated parcels for sale at auction. Historically, sales happened quarterly and of the parcels nominated, the BLM typically offered a far higher percentage for lease than we will see at the upcoming auction. As just one example, in 2019, 719 parcels were nominated for lease in Wyoming and 527 were offered at auction — meaning that the BLM accepted around 72% of the nominations. In the most recent announcement, the BLM announced it would only make about 20% of nominated parcels available for lease — and at new higher royalty rates. Nationwide, only 173 parcels will be offered up this cycle, including 129 in Wyoming.
While something is certainly better than nothing, this unnecessarily low level of federal leasing shows that the federal government is more interested in appearances than policy. The Biden administration is trying to play both sides of an issue without considering what is best for America. Environmental activists have decried the resumption of leasing and championed the cancellation of lease auctions largely on climate change and emissions grounds. Although not explicitly cited as the reason for failing to offer parcels for lease, it is difficult to imagine that this was not a major basis for the Biden administration’s decision to cancel lease sales.
But, the Biden administration also wants to be seen as doing something to address gas prices while still appeasing those who oppose oil and gas production as a whole.
Oil is a global market. This means that reductions in drilling in Wyoming or other places in the U.S. do not result in less oil in the marketplace. If domestic production dips, drilling elsewhere increases to take up the slack. Refusing to offer federal oil and gas leases does nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or other potential pollutants — it merely moves their source to another country.
Domestic production where we have more control over safety and emission standards is likely the best option for minimizing environmental impacts. Rather than protect the environment, the Biden administration’s oil and gas leasing decisions so far have merely been an attempt to placate a particular interest group at the expense of America and Wyoming’s well-being.
The federal government, this time through the EPA, made another announcement this week that flies in the face of common sense. The greater Denver area has dealt with increasing smog and air quality issues in recent years. One air quality monitoring station recently concluded that about 1% of the Denver area’s airborne particulate matter originated in Wyoming. This amounts to less than 1 part per billion of particulate matter in the air. However, due to this, the EPA is now proposing that it impose more stringent emissions standards on the states of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California even though Wyoming already regulates its own emissions standards.
This proposal flies in the face of common sense. For example, the American Lung Association recently rated Cheyenne as the city with the nation’s cleanest air for year-round particle pollution. Casper came in sixth. Wyoming’s contribution to Denver’s issues is negligible and does not justify the federal intrusion. In fact, the state of California contributed around double what Wyoming did to the Denver area’s smog problem, despite the great geographic distance.
Simply put, Wyoming is not the problem when it comes to Denver’s air quality. The burden that new federal regulation would place on Wyoming far outweighs the negligible change to Denver air quality issues that would come from the regulations. Even if the EPA entirely shut down Wyoming, such that no emissions originated here, the impact on Denver would be unnoticeable. Instead, this merely reflects the federal government failing to consider the real-world impacts of their policies.
We in Wyoming often say we need to push back against the federal government. Policies like these show why that sentiment makes sense.