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No special session: Gordon says Wyoming’s ‘well-equipped’ to fight feds on coal

Twenty-six lawmakers asked the governor Monday to call for a special session to reverse Biden administration plans to stop new coal leases in the Powder River Basin.

Two lone coal cars sat abandoned on a rail line in the central Powder River Basin in Wyoming June 3, 2022. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

by Maggie Mullen, WyoFile

So long as it’s up to Gov. Mark Gordon, a special session of the Wyoming Legislature to address the federal government’s proposed plans to stop issuing new federal coal leases in the Powder River Basin won’t be happening. 

Rep. Mark Jennings (R-Sheridan) circulated a letter amongst lawmakers last week that called on Gordon to convene a special session. Altogether, 26 lawmakers signed on, and a revised version of the letter was sent to the governor’s office Monday.

In May, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management proposed ending federal coal leasing in the Powder River Basin, which is the nation’s largest coal supplier and a longtime pillar of Wyoming’s economy. 

“This move will not only kill thousands of good-paying jobs and decimate surrounding communities,” the letter states. “It will permanently cement out-of-control inflation and energy poverty nationwide. 

“We respectfully but urgently request you to convene the Wyoming Legislature pursuant to Article 3, Section 7 of the Wyoming Constitution in order for the Legislature to appropriate funds and enlist a constitutionally-focused, proven legal team to fight Biden’s war on Wyoming the right way,” the letter states. 

After WyoFile broke the story last week, Jennings reached out to Gordon by phone to clarify that the letter was meant to be supportive of the state’s legal fight, according to Michael Pearlman, spokesperson for the governor’s office. 

The governor reiterated to Jennings during the call that Wyoming “is well-equipped to fight the battle,” Pearlman said, thanks in part to the state’s $1.2 million coal litigation fund. If additional resources become necessary, Pearlman said, the governor encouraged lawmakers to address the need in the supplemental budget during the next legislative session, which begins in January. 

Beyond the call, Pearlman said the governor would not issue a formal response to the letter. 

“My call with the Governor went very well,” Jennings, who is affiliated with the hard-line Wyoming Freedom Caucus but not a formal member, told WyoFile in an email. 

“We were hoping to send the Governor a letter of support in fighting against the overreach of the Biden administration and letting him know if he needed to call a special session to appropriate some funds, we were willing to be of help,” Jennings wrote. 

Rep. Mark Jennings (R-Sheridan) sits at his desk during the 2024 Legislative Budget session. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

The initial letter sent to the governor was mistakenly dated May 14 — two days before the Bureau of Land Management issued its proposal — but Jennings said a corrected version has since been sent to Gordon. 

A special session isn’t completely ruled out, but it appears to be unlikely. 

Lawmakers have the ability to convene without the governor’s approval, but that would require a simple majority vote in both chambers, and the number of lawmakers who signed onto the letter fell short of that with a total of 22 representatives and four senators. 

Those who opted to sign on are members or close allies of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus. They include: Reps. Jennings, Bill Allemand (R-Midwest), Ocean Andrew (R-Laramie), Abby Angelos (R-Gillette), John Bear (R-Gillette), Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland), Scott Heiner (R-Green River), Ben Hornok (R-Cheyenne), Chris Knapp (R-Gillette), Tony Locke (R-Casper), Chip Neiman (R-Hulett), Pepper Ottman (R-Riverton), Ken Pendergraft (R-Sheridan), Sarah Penn (R-Lander), Rachel Rodriguez-Williams (R-Cody), Allen Slagle (R-Newcastle), Scott Smith (R-Torrington), Tomi Strock (R-Douglas), Clarence Styvar (R-Cheyenne), Tamara Trujillo (R-Cheyenne), Jeanette Ward (R-Casper), John Winter (R-Thermopolis) and Sens. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester), Evie Brennan (R-Cheyenne), Bob Ide (R-Casper) and Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle). 

“I was a little surprised that so many of the legislators didn’t bother to respond to the letter of support,” Jennings told WyoFile. 

In May, the Freedom Caucus implored Gordon in an op-ed to begin a legal fight against the BLM’s proposal, despite the state not having legal standing yet. Sixteen House members signed on to that particular letter, which also criticized the governor’s past actions. 

The BLM’s proposal completed its requisite 30-day “protest” period on Monday. A final order is due later this year. Gordon has promised to “fully utilize the opportunities to kill or modify this Record of Decision before it is signed and final.” 

Since then, Gordon directed $300,000 of the state’s coal litigation fund to the Wyoming Energy Authority to contract with entities who can assist Wyoming “in anticipation of litigation,” Gordon wrote in a May 20 letter to the agency’s director. 

In March, the Legislature also added about $1.8 million to the federal natural resource policy account, which, according to the budget bill, can be used for litigation related to “federal land, water, air, mineral and other natural resource policies that may affect the state or counties.” 

Aside from Ottman and Trujillo, all of the lawmakers who signed the special session request to Gordon voted against the budget bill. 

In March, a push by the Freedom Caucus to hold a special session to override gubernatorial vetoes failed to get enough lawmaker support. 

Gordon recently announced a town meeting scheduled for June 25 in Gillette to discuss “a barrage of proposed rules and actions by the federal government that are impacting the state’s energy industries and public lands.”


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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