- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 14, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Gov. Matt Mead is pledging to keep fighting “with bulldog determination” for the future of Wyoming coal.

Mead told Wyoming legislators in his state of the state address Wednesday that he has never seen an onslaught against a single industry like what he described as the Barack Obama administration’s anti-coal agenda.

Mead, a Republican sworn in last week to his second consecutive term, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has had “a green light to go after the coal industry, and six years later coal is still targeted by federal regulators.”

Wyoming is the nation’s largest coal-producing state, but demand for coal has sagged in recent years in the face of stricter federal power plant pollution regulations and cheaper natural gas.

“In coming years, I will continue to work with bulldog determination on coal initiatives, port expansion, new technology and value-added products,” Mead said. “And in coming years, we don’t need to let up, we need to double down. We must assure coal’s continuity.”

Mead said he will keep pressing for access to Pacific coast ports so Wyoming can export its coal overseas. Both Wyoming and Montana are appealing a recent rejection by the state of Oregon of an energy company’s proposal to build a coal terminal on the Columbia River.

On another critical issue, Mead said he’s ready to stop fighting the federal government and seek the best deal he can get to expand the Medicaid program.

Expanding Medicaid is a cornerstone of the federal Affordable Care Act. But Mead has opposed it in Wyoming, even though it would offer insurance to some 17,000 low-income adults. He has insisted he didn’t trust federal promises to pay for most of the expansion in future years. Wyoming’s legislature repeatedly has rejected expansion.

But Mead told lawmakers Wednesday that the state is losing money to other states by rejecting the program while sticking hospitals with the cost of uncompensated care. He said it’s time for Wyoming to act.

Senior Wyoming legislative leaders said they’re not certain what the Legislature will do.

Senate President Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, said many senators oppose expanding Medicaid. House Speaker Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, said he expects expansion “is going to be difficult and acrimonious” in the house.

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said he’s open to any approach that leads to expanded health care.

The Joint Interim Labor, Health and Social Services Committee in December voted to endorse a Medicaid expansion plan. But it voted to require people receiving that coverage to pay into a fund similar to a health savings account to help cover costs.

Mead’s supplemental budget request to lawmakers this session calls for lawmakers to approve more than $150 million in additional spending for highway improvements, local government funding and projects at the University of Wyoming.

“We have and should continue to invest, we should continue to save,” Mead said. “The fact is, we have seen record savings, and we can be proud of that. But we have opportunities, not down the road but this session, to invest in more infrastructure.”

On other topics, Mead:

-Called for the legislature to develop a clear policy for managing Wyoming’s so-called rainy day fund, which has roughly $2 billion. Many lawmakers are concerned about the future of state revenues given recent declines in oil prices.

-Said his administration is crafting a water policy to be released soon. Water is Wyoming’s most important resource, the governor said, and the state needs to protect its supplies from downstream demands.

Mead said the plan will call for building 10 small reservoirs over the next 10 years as well as other projects. His supplemental budget request to lawmakers for this legislative session seeks $18.6 million to fund water projects.

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