The federal Economic Development Administration selected 60 finalists in the first phase of a granting process that will award up to $100 million for regional economic development projects. None of the four applications from Wyoming were selected. (Economic Development Administration)

Wyoming’s exclusion from a list of 60 finalist communities and entities competing for federal grants under the Build Back Better Regional Challenge program is without merit and politically motivated, Gov. Mark Gordon and all three Wyoming congressional delegates said.

Like Wyoming, no applicants were selected from North Dakota or Montana, which also face a transition away from coal — a key determining factor of the federal stimulus program.

Gordon, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis — all Republicans — derided the Biden administration in a press release issued from the governor’s office within hours of the announced finalists on Monday.

“I am furious that this administration has turned its back on the number one coal-producing state, but given their track record to date, I am not surprised,” Gordon said in the release. “These decisions are clearly political and not based on merit.”

Gov. Mark Gordon is seen delivering his third State of the State Address March 2, 2021 from the Historic Supreme Court Chamber. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

The blanket rejection of all Wyoming applications, Barrasso added, “is a slap in the face to our coal communities, energy workers and their families. Either this was a terrible oversight that can be quickly corrected, or it was another direct, intentional assault on Wyoming’s livelihood by an out-of-touch administration.”

The Wyoming Energy Authority, University of Wyoming, Campbell County and City of Cheyenne submitted individual applications to the Build Back Better Regional Challenge program, which solicits regional-scale plans to diversify local economies. Coal communities are among the priority targets in the federal stimulus effort, as well as native and rural communities, according to the Economic Development Administration, which oversees the effort. Greater “economic equity” is also a key goal.

The program is part of the American Rescue Plan Act, which all three Wyoming congressional delegates voted against.

“This decision further underscores why I voted against the initial $1.9 trillion dollar bill that created this program, because it’s clear that the funding in the legislation would not benefit the people of Wyoming,” Cheney said in the release.

The 60 finalists will compete to be among three to eight regional projects that will each be awarded $100 million, according to EDA.

“We know we can get four politicians to respond on the record, on the same day, within hours of the announcement,” Jenkins said. “So my question is: Where were they when we needed help? We’ve been asking for help for months.”

Logan Jenkins, Sheridan business owner

Several more granting opportunities remain for Wyoming communities under multiple ARPA programs aimed at diversifying local economies. The Wyoming Energy Authority and University of Wyoming have not received feedback from the EDA about why their projects did not make the cut,  sources from those entities told WyoFile.

Early skeptics of state action 

Some local economic development officials complained in August about a lack of coordination by the state to help communities collaborate, prepare projects and apply to the program. Responding to the criticism, the Wyoming Energy Authority and Wyoming Business Council announced in October they would provide more assistance and coordination.

“We’ve taken that [criticism] very much to heart because that is our role: to be able to provide that support and collaboration,” Wyoming Energy Authority Program Director Anja Bendel told WyoFile in October. “So we’re taking a much more visible, active role.”

Sheridan business owner Logan Jenkins was among those who worried that state and local officials in Wyoming were unprepared to apply to the Build Back Better Regional Challenge, and encouraged more collaboration. Monday’s fiery language from Gordon and Wyoming’s congressional delegation in response to Wyoming coming up short reeks of hypocrisy and likely doesn’t help Wyoming’s case, Jenkins said.

A crew prepares a new concrete pad at the future location of the Wyoming Innovation Center just north of Gillette in September 2021. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

“We know we can get four politicians to respond on the record, on the same day, within hours of the announcement,” Jenkins said. “So my question is: Where were they when we needed help? We’ve been asking for help for months.”

Wyoming leaders might be suffering under a sense of entitlement, Jenkins added, because the state is arguably the largest coal community in the nation facing a major economic transition away from coal. But that doesn’t let communities off the hook from putting forward projects that fit the parameters of the federal program, he said.

“What was in the applications?” Jenkins said. “Did they fit the parameters? These are supposed to be regional partnerships, and a region is not Campbell County.”

The Wyoming Energy Authority and Wyoming Business Council have provided support and consultation to several entities in the state vying for the Build Back Better Challenge, according to Bendel.

“The short-term support was very concrete in collaborating with communities across the state on the specific funding opportunities through the Economic Development Administration,” Bendel told WyoFile. Parties discussed what projects communities are working on so that the state “can consolidate our efforts and have one voice going forward.”

Dustin Bleizeffer

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. According to usaspending.gov, Wyoming has received:

    $7.5 Billion from 44,962 prime awards in the trailing 12 months.

    And a Face Value of Loans of
    $1.5 Billion from 15,706 prime awards.

    Direct Payments: $3.9B #20,937.
    Grants: $2.5B #2,459.
    Loans: $625.8M #15,706
    Contracts: $334.1M #2,419
    Other Financial: $192.6M #3,441

    https://www.usaspending.gov/state/wyoming/latest

    That is a big investment of federal money into Wyoming.

    Direct Payments $3.9B 20,937
    Grants $2.5B 2,459
    Loans $625.8M 15,706
    Contracts $334.1M 2,419
    Other Financial Assistance $192.6M 3,441

  2. Mr. Jenkins, other than Cheney, don’t blame any of the other Wyoming Federal Legislators or the Governor. People who blame others for their mistakes are simply tied to Bidden. I would think someone who works for UW in the Energy Department would be able to prepare and write an application to get some money from the Feds. Quite blaming others, it is the Bidden jokers are who you all should be blaming.

  3. I think we should keep using coal in this state and any state that ask for it. The Federal Government clearly has no interest in this Nations Needs.

    1. The fact of the matter is that politicians don’t get to decide what fuel or energy source is going to be used to produce electricity. That’s decided by electrical utilities and their boards of directors.
      Coal has lost its economic advantage. Simple as that.

  4. There is no one else to blame. They need to look in the mirror when pointing that accusatory finger. Wyoming’s leadership and legislature has refused to diversify their economy for decades while attempting to force other states to receive and ship their coal, forcing obsolete coal-fired power plants to remain open, spending millions on sequestration theory to keep coal production alive (some is promising) while bashing anyone and everyone that suggests coal is the foremost precursor of advancing climate change. How embarrassing for Wyoming citizens to read how their elected officials whine about and belittle the administration that was simply abiding by their rhetoric and actions! Wyoming’s delegation’s scorched earth politics is coming home to roost. One does not reward repeated temper tantrums, character assassinations and steadfast opposition to virtually anything this administration proposes by appropriating funds the delegation has labeled as waste and excess. Boggles the mind.

    1. Mark Larson, the same one at UW in 1969 ? If so I see you are still an old hippie type now. I thought you might have moved to NY or CA by now to join your Liberal buds. Wyoming is, in case you have overlooked it, a huge energy producing State. Generating clean energy electricity from is coal fired power plants is a good thing for the Nation and the State. It is also good for the soon to come electric vehicles. People that do not understand that an increase in generation will be necessary to provide the electrical fuel to operate the trucks and cars of the future. It will not be done only by wind and solar. Your bud Bidden is lost when comes to a national entry policy. Time for all the now old hippies to grow up and get real.

  5. Good heavens–how long do we have to wallow in the crocodile tears before someone slaps us “smart” and we understand that we only get what we’re willing to work for in this world? And we wake up to the fact that we get what we vote for? Past time to vote for and elect adults for a change!

  6. Trump once held up a sign at a rally that said, “Trump Digs Coal.” That’s about the extent of what the Trump administration did for the coal industry. It was collapsing all around in his four year term. I believe that Wyoming has the most inept collection of politicians right now that it has had in the 40 years that I’ve lived here and from the looks of things it’s only getting worse. The Feds bailed the State out in the past year with Covid relief funds or whatever but the future is none too rosy.

  7. A significant component of the grant applications included engaging with labor as part of the regional plan. As Executive Director of Wyoming State AFL-CIO, I reached out to three of the four applicants, talked with two of them, and neither had any idea what is meant by labor and therefore did not include it in the grant application. Sometimes, that is why grants are not awarded – when parts of the application requirements are ignored. I agree with Mr. Jenkins; some assistance from the governor’s office would have been helpful and may have secured at least one award. Also, a little help from those on Capitol Hill would not have been out of line. Sometimes, it’s ok to work the the administration in office if it will actually help your constituency.

  8. Boo hoo. The comments say it all! Wyoming doesn’t exactly have a great record in diversifying the economy and this supposed region of independent thinkers and doers doesnt show the slightest will to extricate itself from Federal support even as it bashes that support and the guy in charge. You reap what you sow.

  9. LOL LOL!!!!!!

    A) Wyoming scored billions in free funds for the nuclear project in Kemmerer, much of it Federal $$$.

    B) The Wyoming politicians are the same people who were against the BBB bill, against stimulus spending, against deficits and debt, and against every democratic agenda. Now they complain the democrats didn’t spoon feed them more welfare.

    C) The politicians who can’t fix Wyoming’s economy need someone else to blame. They have had decades to get it figured out and failed.

    C) Tax your own citizens!!!! Billions in Jackson. Millions everywhere else. Or maybe another tax cut for billionaires since that worked so well for federal revenues.

  10. I would suggest to Guv Gordo, Sinators Barrasso and Lummis, and other certified Dem Bashers in the strongest possible terms short of expletives that maybe possibly if you’all would bite your tongues and quit flaming and blaming Joe Biden and the entire Democratic Party at every opportunity, Wyoming might move up the waiting list of federal funding in the current match-set. Or at least not be brownlisted.

    It might also be worthwhile to be prescient that Wyoming on its worst day still gets back $ 2 or $ 3 from the federal government for every single dollar it pays in taxes and fees. Were it not for the composite of Federal jobs, payroll, funds, programs, matching grants , and SUBSIDIES from Washington DC, we would be in a huge world of hurt here in Wyoming. The bitter truth is the freedom loving rugged individualist Code of the West lifestyle we flaunt is beyond our own means of paying for it out of our own pockets. We can rant about the idealized and ideologic Wild West frontier Cowboy ethos all we want, but nothing more glamorous than a Pre-Columbian aboriginal subsistence living is feasible here without the direct support from the other 49 states, especially the Blue ones.

    Years ago I had the same talking point with Guv Matt Mead. He got a nice fluffy red Christmas stocking from me with two lumps of coal in it … one for his energy policy , and the other on behalf of grizzlies and wolves. Wyoming needs to learn its place here in the New West and the 21st century. Let’s start by not using fossil thinking on the topic of fossil fuels , and work upwards and outwards from there.

    1. Just because you write a grant doesn’t automatically qualify you for the money. Wyoming politicians scream like 2 yr olds when they don’t get what they feel they deserve. (smacks of entitlement) Their answer is always to blame. When you don’t follow the established guidelines, there are consequences. You don’t get to write the playbook rules gov.
      Pull up your bootstraps and get to work. Failure is a great opportunity to do it over and better next time. Tax the corporations fo more money!

  11. For Wyoming’s congressional delegation to express outrage at this is hypocrisy. They did nothing to help the transition from coal, but instead pandered to the coal companies even as one after another declared bankruptcy. And to claim that Wyoming’s exclusion is politically motivated takes it to a higher level of hypocrisy. I wish Wyoming’s congressional delegation had the political motivation to fight for this state’s future.

    1. I agree totally! Cry babies like our Governor, Barrasso, Lummis, and Cheney are total hypocrites. All I ever hear, is them bashing current administration and policies. So tired of their blather

    2. I couldn’t agree more with the commentors who recognize and acknowledge those Wyoming politicians who have done everything they can to try to completely block Biden’s agenda, including and especially BBB. The lack of a grant may or may not be political, but as others have said, “You reap what you sow”.

      I’m waiting to hear them crow about how great a job they did when the infrastructure money starts coming in-if it does. It’s amazing how some politicians will jeopardize the welfare of the country just to make it look like the opposing party isn’t accomplishing anything and to give themselves a better shot in the next election.

      I sure have mixed feelings about Cheney. Cannot agree with almost all of her political positions, but at least she has the backbone and integrity to stand up to Trump and his minions.