- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Two bills expressing the displeasure of Wyoming lawmakers with what many of them see as an attack on coal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moved a step forward on Monday.

The House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee advanced a joint resolution that would call on Congress to require the EPA to respect the state’s primacy in setting guidelines to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

The committee also endorsed another bill that would authorize Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael to take legal action against the EPA if he believes the federal agency is exceeding its authority.

Marion Loomis, head of the Wyoming Mining Association, testified in favor of both bills.

“I think it just gives the state one more arrow in the quiver and it would take a little pressure off our Department of Environmental Quality to challenge some of these rules,” Loomis said.

Wyoming is the largest coal-producing state and has been facing off against the EPA on a range of issues regarding federal air quality regulations as it sees its coal production dwindle.

Monday’s committee hearing came as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on a challenge from industry groups and some other Republican-led states attacking the EPA’s decision to cut the emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

Wyoming wasn’t a party to the case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court but was among several states on an amicus brief supporting the challengers.

Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, spoke for both bills at Monday’s committee hearing. As an example of the EPA seeking to expand its reach in the state, he said the agency has been trying to assert regulatory authority over small streams in the state by claiming that they’re navigable waters.

“It’s really an end-run to control all our waters,” Bebout said. “Coal is under attack, now they’re looking at our water.”

Todd Parfitt, director of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, told the committee that many of his agency’s programs are primacy programs, in which the EPA delegates authority to the state. He said it’s important that the state have a solid relationship with the federal agency.

“There are a significant number of new rules coming out of EPA on an annual basis,” Parfitt said. “Most of those are in air quality, and a lot of the things that come out of EPA do have impact to the state. So we watch those very carefully and sometimes we have concerns.”

Wyoming sided with Texas in a lawsuit filed last year against the EPA over federal regulation of greenhouse gases. Wyoming also appears headed toward another lawsuit with the federal agency over regulations the EPA says are intended to cut regional haze.

Wyoming filed notice of intent to sue EPA in December over the federal agency’s failure to take action on a state plan for air quality regulation.

And Wyoming also is in court appealing a recent EPA decision that seeks to define the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming in the context of allowing the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes to be treated essentially as separate states for purposes of air quality regulations.

Richard Garrett, energy policy analyst with Wyoming Outdoor Council, said he didn’t see the need for the bill. “I think we’re doing a good job in the state,” he said.

Garrett said there’s a benefit to lowering CO2 emissions both from an environmental and security point of view. “January 2014 was the 347th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th century average,” he said. “So global climate change is in fact reality.”

Facing with sagging domestic demand for coal in the face of stricter federal air quality standards, Wyoming is pinning its hopes on exporting coal to Asia. However, the state has faced opposition from some in the Northwest who are concerned about dust and noise from coal trains.

The budget bill that’s advancing in Wyoming’s legislative session would put up $500,000 to cover legal expenses if the state has to sue anyone - including possibly other states - to get access to deep water ports in the Northwest.

Wyoming’s coal production has slipped from more than 430 million tons in 2011 to 385 million tons last year, according to a recent report from the state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group.

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