GOP hopefuls pan Wyo. Range protection
Democrat only house candidate who embraces Barrasso bill.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: June 25, 2008
Support for U.S. Sen. John Barrasso’s Wyoming Range protection bill among Republican candidates for U.S. House was almost nonexistent at a forum in Jackson Hole on Thursday.
The bill, which would prohibit further leasing in a large swath of the Wyoming Range south of Jackson and allow conservation groups to buy and retire existing leases, has passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and awaits introduction to the Senate floor.
Democrat Gary Trauner of Wilson was the only House candidate to enthusiastically support the bill.
“There are places where it is absolutely appropriate to search for energy and places where it is absolutely inappropriate to search for energy,” Trauner said. “I have been in the Wyoming Range and I think it is inappropriate to search for energy there.”
Republican Mark Gordon, who has tried to position himself as a conservation-oriented candidate, said he had not visited the Wyoming Range yet but saw problems with the bill.
“I think there are opportunities to drill in an environmentally benign way,” he said. “It is important to have some sense to understand what the geologic formations are and again to have opportunities to drill in a very benign way.”
Gordon said he did see problems in the federal leasing system.
“It could be done better,” he said. There is no significant National Environmental Policy Act process in place before any leases are issued in places like the Wyoming Range, he said.
Winney: Drill the right way
Republican Bill Winney of Bondurant lives near areas slated for natural gas drilling in the Wyoming Range and near areas that would be put off -limits to leasing.
“We fence off too much in the country,” he said. “We are sitting here with $4-a-gallon gas and the entire energy picture is part of that.”
The Wyoming Range is “valuable to the state and nation, but at same time [you] can’t preserve what you can’t protect,” Winney said. “The only way to protect things is with a strong viable economy. We can drill multiple wells from a single well pad, and directional drilling so we can minimize our footprint and can keep the economy strong.”
Republican Michael Holland said he did not see any need to protect the Wyoming Range through legislation.
“I was engaged in oil and gas exploration for 10 years and we were not out trying to despoil the land,” he said. “I think we left a pretty small footprint wherever we went. We are just shooting ourselves in the foot by putting so many areas off limits.”
Lummis sees new techniques
The strongest support among Republicans came from Cynthia Lummis, a rancher and attorney, who said she had not taken a position on the bill yet. But she qualified her indecision by saying that she had discussed the bill with the Lincoln County Commissioners.
“They believe there may be opportunities in future using new techniques,” she said. “They believe not in protecting it in perpetuity but setting it aside for a number of years. I am very enthusiastic about some of the alternatives being discussed in the state to the legislation as it now exists.”
Support among Republicans for another Barrasso bill, this one that would protect almost 400 miles of the Snake River and its headwaters under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, was stronger, but still guarded in some cases. Gordon said he support the bill despite complaints from Idaho water users and officials from Lincoln County.
“My personal view on Wild and Scenic designation for the Snake is that it was well-considered and (Idaho) U.S. Sen. Craig’s issues were addressed,” he said.
Winney said he would support the bill if it did not impact livestock growers and others who use land around the designated waterways.
“When you designate the Snake or the Hoback as Wild and Scenic there comes some federal oversight of what goes into the water there,” he said. “As long as they don’t impede ability of people to earn their livelihood I am fine with it.”
Hosted by the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, it was first in a series in Wyoming in collaboration with chambers of commerce in Cheyenne, Casper, Gillette, and Rock Springs. Jackson Mayor Mark Barron moderated, while Jackson Hole News&Guide Co-editor Angus Thuermer, Planet Jackson Hole Editor Sabra Ayres, and M.J. Clark of the Wyoming Business Report posed questions and relayed others from the audience.