By Joshua Scheer, reporter, county10.com
(Cheyenne, Wyo.) – The Wyoming Legislature is considering a bill that would study revenue losses to the State of Wyoming caused by federal land restrictions.
Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, brought House Bill 228 to the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier on Thursday. He told committee that the bill would study the negative effects of delayed drilling permits on federal land, loss of property taxes, wilderness designations and more due to the large amount of publicly held land in the state. He said that there are 10 or 11 other western states looking at similar measures.
Committee Chairman Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, asked Miller about the nature of other states’ measures. Miller believed Utah’s legislature was considering a bill that included litigation. Arizona’s similar bill also included litigation but was vetoed, he said.
HB228 calls for a task force to study these effects over two to three meetings, Miller said, noting the total cost would be about $30,000. The task force, per the bill as currently written would include two Senators, two Representatives and five appointees from the Governor’s office. Those appointees are to include one with an oil and gas background, one with a mining background, one county commissioner, one in travel and recreation, and one in agriculture.
Bebout later asked why there wasn’t someone with an environmental background on the task force. Miller said he hadn’t thought of it. That would have to come in a later amendment.
Miller said the study should help identify ways in which the state could move forward with addressing these federal problems. He said he hopes that “at a minimum” a memorandum of understanding with federal agencies would put management, if not ownership, of the lands into the hands of people in Wyoming rather than Washington, D.C.
Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, who is not a member of the committee, suggested funds be added to the bill to send an Attorney General to the meetings. The bill states that the Attorney General’s Office shall determine any legal recourse.
Committee member Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, moved to provide $8,000 for the Attorney General. That failed to receive a positive vote. He then suggested $5,000, which also failed. Ultimately, $3,000 was approved.
The committee passed the $33,000 bill. From here, the bill will have to be introduced onto the Senate floor.
Wyoming Outdoor Council’s Richard Garrett, a Fremont County resident, was in Cheyenne lobbying with Senators about the bill.
He did not speak up during the Appropriations meeting. In an interview, Garrett said he was disappointed that the legislature was considering spending $33,000 to study information he considers to already be well known.
Garrett believes the state would be better off giving the funds straight to the Attorney General to assess legal action. While he said he’s not afraid of a study, he dislikes biased studies. “Representative Miller has clearly reached a conclusion,” he said.
Garrett said if the bill continues through the Senate, he will encourage the addition of someone with an environmental background on the task force. He said someone from the Lander-based National Outdoor Leadership School might be a good option.