Wyoming left out of federal coal community assistance program

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. (Graphic: Economic Development Administration)

By Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile

Gov. Mark Gordon and Wyoming’s congressional delegation allege political prejudice in state’s exclusion from the Build Back Better Challenge.

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.”

Mark Gordon
Gov. Mark Gordon is seen delivering his third State of the State Address March 2, 2021 from the Historic Supreme Court Chamber. (Photo: 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 Regional Better 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.

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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.

 

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.