Energy Rebound Program revived

Michael Cummo, Wyoming Tribune Eagle photo

WYOMING – It was a busy week for Gov. Mark Gordon. Within the same seven-day stretch he stood beside Sen. John Barrasso to announce Wyoming will be the home of a demo nuclear plant from energy giant TerraPower to build excitement for the state’s future, Gordon issued separate statements related to Wyoming’s past and present energy sector.

On Monday, Wyoming and Montana filed a joint response to the federal solicitor general’s recent opinion in the coal port action case, an issue dating back years. The two states argued that Washington State’s policies were discriminatory against the coal industry and infringed Wyoming’s sovereignty – as such, only the Supreme Court could grant relief in this case.

“The Court should exercise its original jurisdiction and allow Montana and Wyoming to vindicate their sovereign interests,” the response read.

The response stated Wyoming and Montana’s case shouldn’t be dismissed because the company, in this case Millennium Bulk Terminals, went bankrupt before completion of the project.

That’s precisely why the solicitor general argued the case was moot in a brief filed on May 26. As a response, Wyoming and Montana argued the case went beyond a single developer and Washington’s policies would continue to block coal port development.

The case stems from Millennium Bulk Terminals’ attempt to build a coal port on the coast of Washington, which would be used to ship Wyoming and Montana coal internationally. The project faced consistent pushback by Washington and the federal courts. Last year the acting solicitor general, appointed by former President Donald Trump, decided not to issue an opinion on the matter.

Rep. Liz Cheney weighed in earlier this week, issuing a statement that said the Biden administration is wrong for ignoring the constitutional issues.

“It’s a violation of the Commerce Clause for one state to undermine another state’s economic activity, and that’s exactly what (Washington) Gov. (Jay) Inslee is doing by attempting to deny a permit for a terminal to export Powder River Basin coal,” Cheney said. “This is an important project that must be allowed to move forward. Washington’s policy objection – which is rooted in their radical environmental beliefs rather than the facts – is not an excuse for ignoring the law and infringing on the rights of Wyoming and our state’s energy producers.”

Gov. Gordon reiterated his position in a release by saying Washington’s position to block other states from commerce is unconstitutional.

A day after issuing an update on the blocked coal port, Gordon’s office announced it would once again install a program intended to stimulate job creation in the energy sector.

The Energy Rebound Program will be funded by up to $12 million of remaining CARES Act funds. The program was originally launched last year and provided capital to struggling oil and gas projects. Those funds were used for drilled but uncompleted ventures, workovers and reclamation of oil and gas wells through plugging and abandonment.

“The Energy Rebound Program successfully provided opportunities for oil and gas industry employees who lost jobs when drilling ceased last year,” Gordon said. “This program will continue to provide economic benefits to this important industry, their workforce and the entire state of Wyoming.”

Gordon’s office acknowledged in a release that the state’s energy sector is lagging behind due to external market resources. There are currently only nine active rigs, according to the governor’s office. These funds are intended to raise that number closer to the 30 active rigs in February 2020, before the coronavirus swept through America.

This time, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will administer the project and operators will need to certify the number of jobs created for Wyoming workers. In order to qualify, a worker must be a Wyoming resident at the time of application.

Applications for this year’s Energy Rebound Program will be accepted from June 15 through June 25.

Those funds will be distributed later this year, possibly before the announcement of the nuclear test site. TerraPower said it would release the site’s location before the end of the year. Cities throughout Wyoming have expressed excitement, ranging from Gillette to Rock Springs.

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