Permitting Reform will Help Reestablish American Leadership
It is all too easy these days to complain about our elected officials. Instead, I want to commend our congressional delegation for their work towards federal permitting reform. These bipartisan efforts must succeed for Wyoming to reach its full potential in feeding, powering and defending our nation.
In Wyoming we are all too familiar with the challenges of living with such a large federal presence. Even under the best of circumstances it is akin to having important parts of our economy wait in line at the DMV. At its worst, public lands in Wyoming are abused by activists in both private organizations and politically appointed positions in D.C. to destroy our livelihoods.
A perfect example of this dysfunction is the Converse County Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This process took seven years and will reduce the regulatory burden for the oil and gas industry which drives our economy and provides vital revenue to the state. In that timeframe, I and many other elected officials had to fight for common sense decisions to streamline this vital work and minimize the impact on our environment.
Sometimes it is a challenge to rectify the two worlds I live in as a citizen legislator. The battles we’ve won in the federal permitting process have required a significant amount of effort as an elected official. But when I go to work as a rancher alongside oil and gas workers in the Powder River Basin, I can’t tell the difference between a well that was permitted under one regulatory regime or another. The effects on the ground of all the paperwork and political effort are indeterminable; all that seems to change is the number of trees killed in the permitting process.
Of course, this prolonged process makes important parts of our economy vulnerable to extremist groups such as the Powder River Basin Resource Council. Even now the State of Wyoming is working with the oil and gas industry, ranchers, school districts and local citizens to defend the Converse County EIS in a D.C. courtroom. If we fail, the most active oil and gas basin in the state will be shut down for an interminable amount of time as this case winds its way through the federal court system.
Wyoming’s traditional energy projects are not alone in facing significant bureaucratic delays. Wind energy projects rely on transmission capacity to deliver electricity. The lengthy permitting process faced by electric transmission infrastructure all over the state has been the primary hold up in getting projects like the Cedar Springs Wind Project north of Douglas in operation. This project was constructed at the beginning of the pandemic when the oil field was shut down, providing a vital source of local employment. Now that it is operational, this wind farm provides more revenue to state and local government than it requires in government services - one of the few industries in Wyoming that does so.
Further, this ineffective system has a negative impact on our national defense. I served for six years in the Air Force as a nuclear missile crew commander. The missile we operated, while still over 99 percent effective, was also several decades past its expected operational life. Even as a young airman it was clear to my peers and me that the system needed to be replaced. The greatest obstacle, in our eyes? The permitting requirements to put a new missile and supporting infrastructure in place.
I am glad the Air Force is moving forward with deploying the new Sentinel missile. However, I am still concerned that the EIS for this project took longer than the time required for communist China to build the infrastructure for three brand new nuclear missile fields. How will we compete in a deadly serious showdown with a communist regime intent on world domination with one arm tied behind our back?
We are a state made up of productive, action-oriented people. I commend our federal delegation’s efforts which reflect these values. Vital projects to maintain our economy and national defense must not be held hostage by “experts” who have precious little real-life experience. Perhaps there was a time when we could afford such largess. With emboldened adversaries and increasing questions about our nation’s ability to show leadership around the world, this is not one of those times.