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A Year In Energy: The Trump Administration's Impact On Wyoming’s Main Industry

Bureau of Land Management; https://ar.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D9%85%D9%84%D9%81:Coal_mine_Wyoming.jpg

Wyoming voted for President Trump at a higher percentage than any other state, in part because the President promised a new era of energy dominance. After declining employment numbers in fossil fuel industries, increasing environmental regulations and coal company bankruptcies, many were ready to see a change. So, what has changed in the President’s first year?

In March, Trump signed an executive order formally prioritizing energy development and recommending rolling back regulations. Since then, federal agencies have taken steps along those lines. The Department of Interior has re-opened discussions of sage grouse regulations, arguably in favor of oil and gas development. The EPA has moved to delay federal methane regulations and removed a coal moratorium on federal lands — which has yet to yield any new leases within the state. The President’s administration has removed the United States from the global Paris Climate Accord, which promises to reduce greenhouse gases in favor of renewable energy, and has begun the process of repealing the Clean Power Plan.  

Since the President's arrival in office, coal production has been up across the Powder River Basin. Federal mineral royalties were up almost three million dollars including coal lease bonuses. Employment on those mines has also been up on average. Natural gas production has increased slightly, but oil production is down— it had a particularly bad year in 2016, too.

Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King said she doesn’t believe improvements in coal production can be attributed to any given policies, but rather a feeling of prioritization. She said rolling back regulations, ending the coal moratorium, and pro-energy appointments to his administration have all given people improved confidence.

Rob Godby, energy economist at the University of Wyoming, agrees that when it comes to influencing Wyoming’s fossil fuel industries, changes can’t be reduced to the lifting the Clean Power Plan, for example.  He said there are three major factors that have influenced Wyoming’s energy industries: less of a regulatory burden, rolling back regulations, and a public rearrangement of priorities. 

For conservationists, 2017 was seen as a step backward. In a press release, Erik Molvar, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, characterized the past year this way: “The Trump administration is clearly charting a course for maximizing the exploitation of the environment for corporate profit, at the expense of public lands, native wildlife, and public health and welfare."

The recent signing of tax reform into law will also likely benefit fossil fuel industries by reducing the corporate tax rate 14 percent.

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.
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