Skip to main content

Campbell County lawmakers talk fossil fuels, take shots while mum on special session

News Letter Journal - Staff Photo - Create Article
Jonathan Gallardo with the Gillette News Record, via the Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — Local lawmakers took shots at one another, the governor and the federal government at a legislative wrap-up hosted by the Campbell County Chamber of Commerce Thursday morning.

Reps. Chris Knapp, R-Gillette, and Reuben Tarver, R-Gillette, said Wyoming needs to push back on the federal regulations on fossil fuels.

The state needs to have an energy policy that will “lead ourselves into the future,” Knapp said, and that starts with protecting the power companies from the EPA.

One option would be for the state to ignore the federal rules, Knapp said. It would lose out on federal funds, “but there’s nothing that forces us to follow those (regulations),” he said.

Tarver said he doesn’t understand why the state hasn’t sued the EPA.

“Why wouldn’t we be taking all of our money we’ve got and pushing back as hard as possible?” he asked. “We’ve got the money, but we do not have the leadership to fight for this state. It drives me bonkers.”

Knapp said he likes Wyoming’s chances against the EPA if things go to the Supreme Court.

“The EPA is more than welcome to sue us, but I don’t think they’ll have standing and I think Wyoming will dictate its future,” he said.

Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devil’s Tower, said this past session was “without a doubt the most contentious” session he’s ever been part of in his 14 years as a state senator, and that he believes “it came out pretty good” considering that.

At the event, Driskill criticized Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, claiming he was “deceiving” the audience.

Bear was pushing back on the idea of the “dysfunction” in the state Legislature.

“That’s what we’re hearing from the media, that’s what we’re hearing from the left,” he said. “The reality is, our constitutional requirements were to get a budget out, we got a budget out. I’m not happy with it, but we got a budget out.”

Bear said the media made a big deal in the first week of the session about legislative committee bills dying.

“There’s some accuracy to this, that the committee bills really are leadership bills that failed in the past,” Bear said. “They’re individual bills.”

If the committee bills were about topics that “are more based on what the grassroots are looking for, I don’t think you’d have those kinds of problems where bills are dying,” he said.

Driskill called out Bear, telling the audience that “what you just got told is not the truth.”

The committee bills were driven by the public, the legislative committees and the management council, he said, and “anyone can come and bring topics” to the committee.

“You’re getting one hell of a lot of spin from people … that are flat out deceiving you on what actually happens, and how it happens,” he said. “This is painful for me to do this, but it makes me angry to have one of us sit up here and tell you something that’s not the truth.”

The potential of a special session was brought up only once. Bear said although Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed House Bill 125, which would’ve repealed gun-free zones, he hopes to see this reversed in a special session.

“We’re seeing some pushback from the teachers union, but I think overall people are very interested in protecting our children,” he said. “You’re going to see a continued battle there, it may lead to a special session where we get a chance to override that veto.”

Tarver said there’s a “serious disconnect” down in Cheyenne between the legislators and the people, and that legislators are thinking of the taxpayers’ money as actually the state’s money.

“There was a lot of resistance on giving anything back, I don’t know why,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t have the money to provide relief; it’s we don’t choose to provide relief.”

“If we managed the state’s money properly, we could get to zero property tax over time, if we would just keep a lid on our spending,” he said.

Looking ahead, Sen. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, said funding K-12 education is going to require “a big lift” in the next few years. For the last two decades, bonus money from federal coal leases has paid for new schools all over the state, Barlow said. That won’t be the case moving forward.

The Legislature approved putting away $700 million into savings one year after setting aside a record $1.4 billion, for a total of $2.1 billion in savings in two years. Some of the lawmakers criticized that move Thursday.

Bear said that if the state can afford to put that much money into savings, then it’s taxing the people too heavily.

Driskill said the state is putting that money away for future generations, so that one day when the state doesn’t have an energy-based economy, things can still run.

“It’s for your kids, your grandkids, your great-grandkids,” he said. “And it’s not my money, I didn’t pay it, it came out of the ground.”

This story was published on March 29, 2024.

--- Online Subscribers: Please click here to log in to read this story and access all content.

Not an Online Subscriber? Click here to subscribe.

Sign up for News Alerts

Subscribe to news updates