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Legislators want $50M to sue feds over environmental laws

Measure seeks to equip Legislature — independent of executive branch — with the means to defend Wyoming’s interests from perceived federal threats.

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)

by Angus M. Thuermer Jr., 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.

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.


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