Water vapor and pollutants rise from stacks at PacifiCorp's Jim Bridger coal-fired power plant near Point of Rocks in southwest Wyoming Jan. 19, 2022. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Wyoming lawmakers want to earmark $50 million to sue the federal government over implementation of national environmental and natural resource laws.

Lawmakers added the proposed $50 million appropriation to a draft bill — Federal land use plans-legal actions authorized — that the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands & Water Resources Committee endorsed Oct. 30. The bill authorizes the Legislature “to prosecute actions involving the proper administration and interpretation of federal acts.”

Lawmakers proposed the measure in part because of dissatisfaction over the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s effort to put conservation on equal footing with resource development in the Rock Springs area of southwest Wyoming. Wyoming believes the BLM’s draft Rock Springs area resource management plan for 3.6 million acres of federal property threatens state and local interests and economies — everything from mining to drilling, grazing and recreation.

“We’re getting locked and loaded to not get pushed around anymore from the big guys back in D.C.”

Sen. Bob Ide

The bill targets the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and other laws passed by Congress.

The bill would allow the Legislature to “prosecute an action for declaratory judgment” to protect Wyoming and the public’s interests.

Who said what

The committee voted unanimously to advance the bill with the recommended $50 million appropriation. One legislator gave his view of the effects of the BLM’s preferred version of the draft Rock Springs plan.

“We’re risking billions of dollars [for] the state of Wyoming if the Rock Springs [resource management plan] and similar RMPs get enacted,” Sen. John Kolb (R-Rock Springs) said. “It’s the future of Wyoming. It’s the future of my kids and grandkids.”

“What this does is send the message that what we’re doing we’re serious about,” he said of the bill.

Others agreed that the measure would underscore Wyoming’s positions.

“We need to show strength here,” Sen. Bob Ide (R-Casper) said, “and I think this kind of sends a message that we’re getting locked and loaded to not get pushed around anymore from the big guys back in D.C.”

Sen. Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle) told the committee the bill would give lawmakers their own power. “If we want to join the governor in the lawsuit or want to litigate something on our own … this provides for a way that Management Council [the Legislature’s leadership] can act on our behalf,”  she said.

Does it matter?

Wyoming already has the ability, authority and funds to sue the federal government to protect the state’s interests. Wyoming has been involved in 37 federal natural resources lawsuits in recent years according to a list the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office gave to lawmakers last month. Attorney General Bridget Hills’ budget for the two-year period ending next summer is approximately $100 million and she employs a staff of 228, according to state documents.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. Wyoming’s basic infrastructure is crumbling and is in desperate need of attention and funding. This should be the focus of State Government funding and spending. Lawsuits against the Federal Government go nowhere, they do nothing but waste time and money.

  2. It is so sad that lawmakers cannot see that conservation is on an equal basis with “development”. And the federal lands belong to all the people of the country, not just the energy extraction industry. Conservation is multiple use, mining is a one time use and does not fit with most other uses. It is not renewable.

  3. I had no idea the Attorney General’s budget was so large and she has a staff of 228 – and that, we have already filed 37 lawsuits concerning natural resource issues. and that budget must include outside counsel – it appears we aren’t asleep at the wheel on natural resource issues. Lets just continue the way we have been without a huge appropriation of funds.

  4. Of the 37 WY lawsuits, how many were won and what was the total cost to the State – won or lost? Also wondering what Federal programs that benefit Wyoming weren’t contested over the same time period? Too bad the “sue happy” legislators aren’t getting their facts correct. The Feds plan looked pretty reasonable – allowing grazing, recreation, etc. . Guess it’s unrealistic to expect those legislators to think about the long-term value of those lands are better conserved for wildlife and WY’s future than open for extractive activities. Please remind us again how many extractive permits already exist in this area!

  5. It would be interesting to know how much the legislature has appropriated in the past 10 years for litigation against state and federal governments, and what their success rate (win rate) has been. What really saddens me is that they are more than ready to sue someone, but balk at appropriating funds for the suicide hotline for instance. I think they should re-think their priorities, and perhaps have a conversation with the federal government where both sides have an opportunity to present their case and the other side actually LISTEN to what is being presented. You can always sue. You can’t bring back someone who has lost all hope and ended their life.

  6. The thought of the state, especially Wyoming “solons”, calling the shots on US Government lands is horrifying. It would be nothing but an invitation to the wealthy to come and plunder the state ’til nothing’s left to plunder…and then, with tears in their eyes, Wyoming residents will beg the feds for more money. Knowing Wyoming idiocy, though, the proposal will probably have strong support here. Reap what you sow, eh?

  7. It is a wonder that they have not requested matching funds from the Federal Government so they can sue the Feds.
    Having been born and raised in Wyoming it is difficult for me to believe that its state Government has sunken this low.

  8. Legislators are suppose to pass laws not sue. To demonstrate that we are locked and loaded is a really poor excuse to give our legislators 50 million dollars

    To the voters of Wyoming: You constantly give our legislators a F- grade and then re-elect the same whackos the following year.

    True republicans are a very respected group. These republicans are a disgrace to wyoming.

  9. Our “lawmakers” can come up with these bogus ideas and millions of dollars to fight with the feds over land use plans that might actually protect some of our Wyoming values. Yet not find one iota of support for Medicaid expansion paid for largely by the federal government to help our citizens. What a stupid waste of money – get a life “lawmakers”.

  10. Just wondering if this is within the constitutional authority of the Wyoming legislature. As the author points out, this is normally done by the Wyoming AG’s office, an executive branch function. Separation of powers? IDK.