A Quick Look On Energy Topics This Legislative Session

Jan 21, 2019

Uranium, coal, oil and gas, and wind energy are all being discussed this legislature -- and the word of the hour is revenue
Credit Cooper McKim/Wyoming Public Radio

The big hitters in the energy industry are all back on the docket this session: coal, wind, uranium, and oil and gas. Unsurprisingly, the focus is on revenue for all of them. Here’s a look at a few of the bills still under discussion.

County Lien Superiority

The Wyoming State Senate received a bill for introduction that would make it easier to recoup lost ad valorem taxes. The one-time mineral production tax helps fund local government services and contributes substantially to education. Counties find themselves over $50 million in the hole, according to a report put out by the Powder River Basin Resource Council. It's due to mineral companies going bankrupt and otherwise not paying the fee over the years.

This bill would make sure counties are in superior position to collect what’s owed during the bankruptcy process. Historically counties have fallen behind other creditors and collected whatever debt was left. Co-Sponsor of the bill Gillette Representative Eric Barlow said this problem has gone on long enough.

“It started as one company one county and now we got multiple companies multiple counties… You know this is getting to be concerning,” Barlow said.

Fellow Gillette Representative Scott Clem agreed, given Campbell County has seen its fair share of delinquent mineral taxes.

“The whole idea is for our municipalities and our counties to recoup some of those losses. I mean those are taxes owed to us and for our critical services and our infrastructure,” Clem said.

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming won’t take a stance until creditors and counties work it out.

Lowering The Severance Tax Rate For Uranium

The legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee will soon discuss a lowered severance tax rate for uranium production. It comes as the industry struggles with competitive prices from natural gas and renewables, and closing nuclear plants.

Sundance Representative Tyler Lindholm said he’s in favor. The U.S. is competing with countries like Kazakhstan that are pouring money into its uranium business. This could help states like Wyoming, the largest uranium producer in the country, stay competitive.

"We're not going to do that in the state of Wyoming but what we can do is offset the tax base so that it is still profitable,” Lindholm said.

Senator Chris Rothfuss of Laramie disagreed. He said uranium’s rate is already lower than other minerals, and he would like to see equality in the severance tax.

"The problem with the uranium market has nothing to do with our severance taxes. So, we're not going to solve the problems of that market by changing our severance tax,” Rothfuss said.

The bill will be discussed in committee next week.

Raise The Wind Tax

Legislators are pushing to increase the tax on wind from $1 per megawatt hour to $5. One of the sponsors, Lander Senator Cale Case, said in an interview last month: "We need to have a tax structure that matches the extreme long-term impacts on the view sheds and the environment and wildlife.”

The bill comes as Wyoming’s capacity for wind energy is set to double after years of stagnancy. Laramie Senator Chris Rothfuss said that growth is a factor he's weighing — especially when the legislature is working to diversify its revenue.

"I don't think we want to exclude that or just discourage it but we definitely have to make sure that we are taking a realistic look at where the revenue will be generated from that new industry,” Rothfuss said.

If the bill were to pass, revenue from the wind tax would go straight into the state’s general fund. Wyoming is one of two states with a wind production tax. The bill has been received in the house, with no further action made yet.

Others

A bill that looks to reduce the severance tax for surface coal was assigned to the Joint Revenue Committee on Friday. The bill has run before. Gillette Representative Scott Clem said the bill is about equality in the tax rate.

"You have other minerals, like oil, that are being taxed at 6 percent. And so the whole idea is is to maintain some equality among the taxes,” Clem said.

He added it’s always better to reduce taxes and allow private interests to hold onto the money, rather than the government.

"They can use it for their purposes. They can give employees raises. They can donate to local communities. You know, there's a lot of lot of good things that companies can do. They can buy needed equipment maybe they put off for a long time,” Clem said.

According to the Legislative Service Office, another bill on forced pooling is also still under discussion.