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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator visits the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources

Governor Mark Gordon (wearing a plaid, green shirt and jeans) stands next to Michael Regan (wearing a navy suit) outside the school of energy resources. They are listening to a presentation about UW's heavy-load drone, which stands on a white table in front of them. A graduate student stands behind the table and explains the drone. In the background, there is a van and some others listening.
Suraj Singareddy
Wyoming Public Radio
Governor Gordon (left, plaid shirt) and Administrator Regan (next to Gordon, navy suit) listen to an explanation of how UW uses heavy-load drones.

Last Wednesday, as part of his tour of Wyoming, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan visited the University of Wyoming (UW). While he was there, Regan participated in a roundtable discussion with Governor Mark Gordon, UW Faculty, and some graduate students.

The discussion, which was held in the School of Energy Resources (SER), was moderated by SER Executive Director Holly Krutka. She began the discussion by reiterating where Wyoming stands on the energy debate.

“Hopefully, in your time in Wyoming, you've been able to witness the balance that we're able to attain between energy production and environmental protection. And I think that's important to everyone who lives in the state,” she said to Regan.

Among the discussion’s participants were faculty who researched carbon capture, air quality, natural resources and more. Each department gave a short presentation on their research, followed by questions from Regan.

One of the questions Regan had was whether UW students were interested in policy or whether they focused purely on science. Dr. John Kaprowski of the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources answered that it was a mix, but many students wanted their research to have real world implications.

“The students of today — the students that we attract here — they love complexity. I was wimpy when I was an undergrad,” said Kaprowski, followed by laughter. “I was like ‘God, give me my ivory tower — my silo.’ But [our students] come in and they want to be part of the solution.”

Regan seemed happy to hear that and told the council about the National Environmental Youth Advisory Council, which the EPA launched and is currently accepting applications for. The council will be accepting applications from 16 - 29 year olds and will give students an opportunity to get directly involved in environmental policy creation.

UW faculty also asked about the differences in perspective between Wyoming and the EPA. Kara Fornstrom, Director of the Center for Energy Regulation and Policy Analysis, brought up the Justice40 Initiative, a Biden Administration program that looks to decrease the impact of pollution on disadvantaged communities.

“The Justice40 implication is that all energy projects are, by definition, burdens,” she said. “We have a population who, for the most part, embraces energy projects, they don't feel burdened by them.”

Fornstrom hopes to work with the EPA to create a definition that makes more sense for Wyoming. While Regan defended the initiative’s structure, he said he was open to discussion. Krutka also offered up the data that UW was collecting, which she hoped would help fill that gap in perspective between Wyoming and the federal government.

“I know you all have to thread that needle of ‘You can't write something that's one size fits all, but in some cases, you have to.’ So if there's any way we can ever provide information, we're always happy to share what we've learned in Wyoming,” she said.

After the discussion concluded, Regan and Gordon headed outside, where they were given a tour of some technology used by UW air quality researchers. Dr. Shane Murphy, Director of the Center for Air Quality, led the segment with the help of other members of his research group.

Regan and Gordon first stopped by a poster showcasing the King Air Research Aircraft. The aircraft, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, is used by both UW and external groups, such as the Wyoming Department of Transportation. It is also used for projects that generate funds for other equipment, such as the mobile emissions lab, a van equipped with the equipment necessary to conduct air quality experiments in the field.

Regan and Gordon were also shown the heavy-load drone which Murphy’s lab uses. The drone is able to carry equipment up to five kilograms, including spectrometers and other particulate-observing devices. Murphy’s research group uses the drone to research air particles found in methane and oil and gas plumes since the drone is able to get to places where cars can’t. Regan said that ability could make it useful in emergency situations.

“For instance, with the Ohio train derailment, as we were looking at all those various chemical costs that were identified on the train car, but we needed aerial technology and mobile technology to determine danger for the community,” he said. “These are the types of technologies that we would love to have more access to.”

A researcher in Murphy’s group agreed, saying that the drone could get closer aerial views than an airplane. Murphy also mentioned that the drone was manufactured by Mountain West companies.

“It's a cool local story because the drone comes from Montana. ARRIS [the drone’s manufacturer] just got bought by a Colorado company. And so it's neat to see all the local companies work together.” he said.

Afterward, Regan and Gordon listened to presentations by several graduate students involved with the SER before moving on to other parts of campus.

Suraj Singareddy is originally from Atlanta, GA, and is a rising junior at Yale University. He's currently an English major with a minor in computer science. He also helps run the Yale Daily News' podcast department, writes for a science-fiction magazine called Cortex, and likes to do different theatre-y stuff around campus. He also loves to read comics and graphic novels in his free time, and is always looking for book recommendations!

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