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Congress reps blast regulatory climate
Jun 20, 2012 - By Joshua Scheer, Staff Writer
It's what all three of Wyoming's legislators in Washington, D.C., feel is slowing mining and energy development, both in the state they represent and nationwide.
"Unfortunately, most of what we're seeing in Washington affects (mining) negatively," U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., said.
U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., agreed, saying over-regulation is "absolutely" a problem, adding that he's "trying to keep regulations from putting all energies out of business."
Similarly, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso said much of his effort is put into asking "what do I have to stop from happening to keep things from getting worse?"
All three legislators spoke with The Ranger this month about the challenges mining and energy production are facing.
All three feel passionate about the coal industry.
Lummis said the Environmental Protection Agency's recently released Utility MACT rule, which requires cutting certain emissions in a three-year period, along with another MACT rule, might force closure of coal-fired power plants that could provide electricity for 18 million homes.
Industry analysts say a likely effect would be that new coal-fire plants wouldn't be built.
Lummis said the rules require the most up-to-date technology be used, regardless of costs.
"Coal has been a four-year battle with this (Obama) administration," Lummis continued. "They are adopting new rules almost every week that make it tough for coal. " It's the stupidest way to regulate air quality."
"Coal is absolutely under siege," she added. "Wyoming coal producers are absolutely reeling."
Lummis said coal restrictions are destroying jobs.
Barrasso, while not speaking specifically of coal, said the "heavy-handed EPA" is working to make energy production more difficult and expensive.
Enzi noted President Barack Obama's recognition of "clean coal" as an energy source.
"The coal in Wyoming is the cleanest in the country," he said.
Enzi, who represented coal-rich Campbell County in the Wyoming Senate before being elected to the U.S. Senate, also mentioned the DKRW Advanced Fuels proposed project, a partnership with Arch Coal, near Medicine Bow that would convert coal to liquid fuel. He said the company has applied for a $4 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy and has received no word.
"Not a dime of that has been given out," Enzi said. "The Department of Energy just isn't approving any."
He said that's a problem not only affecting Wyoming.
"(Obama) said he was going to end coal in America," Enzi said. "He's doing a pretty good job of it."
"We're regressing when it comes to American companies producing American uranium," Lummis said. "Everything we're doing is wrong."
She wants "to prevent the federal government from dumping too much of its stockpile on the market."
Lummis said the Department of Energy plans to make available 9,000 tons of uranium.
"That's going to depress the cost of uranium," she said.
She said 10 percent of the U.S.-used uranium comes from within the country, and she'd like to keep it coming from the private sector.
By putting this uranium on the market, Lummis said the government is denying "the State of Wyoming the jobs, revenue."
"That's killed our industry before," Enzi said.
He also is displeased with the government ending the plan to store spent storage rods in a mountain in New Mexico that already had billions of dollars behind it.
Positivity and future developments
Last October, soda ash royalties to be paid to the federal government jumped from 2 to 6 percent following five years at the lower rate.
Lummis has sponsored legislation that would reinstate the 2 percent royalty.
"What I believe is it will keep our natural soda ash competitive in a global market," Lummis said.
She said the bill passed the natural resources committee with bipartisan and union support.
This comes at a time when China has begun subsidizing the production of synthetic soda ash.
Lummis said data from the last five years supports the idea that extending the royalty rate will allow for not only more soda ash production but also increased revenue for the government.
Barrasso is the second-ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
"I spend a lot of time working on energy," Barrasso said, noting a number of bills he has in the works to make things easier on mining and energy companies.
He listed the Defending America's Affordable Energy and Jobs Act and American Energy and Western Jobs Act. The first is to "pre-empt regulation of, action relating to, or consideration of greenhouse gases under Federal and common law on enactment of a Federal policy to mitigate climate change," states the bill. The second is to rescind memoranda related to mineral leasing on Bureau of Land Management property.
"All of these are designed to remove barriers," he said.
Another piece of legislation he has sponsored is the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments of 2011, which would give American Indian tribes a greater ability to pursue mineral development within reservations.
"They have to go through a number of burdensome and tiresome processes," he said.
Through the Senate Western Caucus, Barrasso has also introduced the Western Economic Security Today Act, which incorporates legislation passed by the House of Representatives. It includes removing the moratorium on off-shore drilling and preventing energy taxation.
Enzi has co-sponsored a number of energy related bills of Barrasso's.
Ultimately, to make any real change, "I think it will take a new president," Barrasso said.
He believes Mitt Romney has a better understanding of what is needed to promote U.S. mining and energy.