Star-Tribune backs Wyoming Range protections

Lummis should stop fighting Wyoming Range protection

‌U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., was wrong to oppose the 2009 Wyoming Range Legacy Act, which banned oil and gas development on 1,875 square miles of the namesake range in the western part of the state and was supported by the rest of Wyoming’s congressional delegation.

Likewise, the congresswoman is wrong today in opposing the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to disallow leasing on about 70 square miles of the Wyoming Range. The 44,700 acres weren’t covered by the 2009 law, but passage of the act sent a clear message that drilling would be inappropriate on the contested leases that never should have been offered for sale. In fact, it was the sale of the leases in 2005 and 2006 that helped motivate the late U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas to begin drafting the Wyoming Range protection bill.

´╗┐Lummis and other members of the Congressional Western Caucus last week sent a letter asking the regional forester to reverse the January decision by the Bridger-Teton National Forest supervisor regarding the 44,700 acres. The lawmakers said the decision “takes a dangerous step to reduce America’s energy security, tramples on the property and contract rights of private companies and prevents the development of oil and gas reserves.”

In regard to the first assertion, we refer Lummis to the eloquent statement made by her Republican colleague, Sen. John Barrasso, on the floor of the Senate when the Wyoming Range Legacy Act was up for a vote. In response to the argument that the measure would harm the nation’s efforts at energy independence, Barrasso pointed out that the most recent estimates of the volumes of oil and gas in the Wyoming Range were much smaller than earlier figures and that Wyoming was already the largest exporter of energy in the country.

“The people of Wyoming are doing their part to keep America’s energy flowing. … Wyoming has never been a state that has said, ‘Not in my backyard,’” he said. “... But we also recognize there must be a balance.”

Protecting a relatively small piece of a pristine part of the state removes one tiny drop from the country’s bucket of oil and gas reserves. It’s laughable to suggest that the nation’s energy security is jeopardized by the action.

In regard to the property and contract rights of private companies, we point out that the firms bidding for the leases knew from the start that they were under protest. They’ve been in limbo since just after the sales, when the Department of the Interior determined that the Forest Service plan which authorized the leases relied upon out-of-date scientific data. Former Gov. Dave Freudenthal was among those who called for canceling the leases, saying in 2007 that to do otherwise “would seem to controvert the clear intent of the [Wyoming Range Legacy Act] and will of the people of the state of Wyoming.”

The veracity of the leases was a longshot from the start, and the companies that bid on them had little reason to expect they’d be allowed to drill there.

The 44,700 acres of disputed leases are in contrast to 64,000 acres of leases held by Plains Exploration and Production Co. nearby. Those leases date to the mid-1990s, so PXP’s expectations for development have a stronger foundation. That’s why, in the absence so far of a proposal from any environmental groups to buy out the PXP leases, we’ve endorsed the company’s agreement with two sportsmen’s groups to voluntarily retire nearly half of its lease acreage and provide $6 million for monitoring water and air quality, while being allowed to drill 136 gas wells from 17 well pads in the upper Hoback River drainage.

The Wyoming Range Legacy Act is a remarkable law because of the bipartisan, diverse support it received. Wyoming’s economy is built upon the energy industry, and a large majority of the state’s citizens support oil and gas development, yet Wyomingites made it clear that the Wyoming Range is one of the areas that are too special to drill. It’s too bad Lummis continues to fight the effort.