By Heather Richards
May 2, 2018 - Wyoming’s coal industry is being offered a seat at the table with regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency as part of a new initiative to collaborate with sectors that power Western economies, the agency’s regional office announced Tuesday.
The Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 includes Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana and the Dakotas. The Smart Sector Program will be a vehicle for data analysis, roundtables between industry and regulators and reports that show the impact of sectors such as agriculture and mining on the environment and the economy.
In Wyoming, the chosen sector to work with the EPA on this program is mining, an industry that has been at odds with the federal agency for years over an Obama-era measure to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. For many in Wyoming, the Clean Power Plan was crafted as part of a political “war on coal.” Repealing the plan was a key selling point in President Donald Trump’s campaign, and last year the Environmental Protection Agency began the work of revising or unravelling the regulation.
The new program to work with industries like coal is in line with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s business-friendly direction since taking over the agency. In a March interview with the Star-Tribune at the Black Thunder coal mine near Wright, Pruitt said industry needs and practices should guide policies from the Environmental Protection Agency, not the other way around.
“When industries and regulators better understand each other, the economy, public, and the environment all benefit,” Pruitt said Tuesday in a statement on the new initiative.
According to the EPA, collaborating with industries that are key to local economies can generate “sensible policies to improve environmental protection.”
Wyoming’s day-to-day relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency is largely related to topics such as clean drinking water or injection wells used by the oil and gas industry to dispose of wastewater. The agency has occasionally become deeply embedded in local issues in Wyoming, as when it stepped in to study the impact of hydraulic fracturing and wastewater management in Pavillion, with controversial results.
The agency also administers a number of grants to state regulatory agencies for environmental programs. It provides loans and grants for individual projects, such as a $300,000 grant approved on April 26 for Douglas to study the environmental risks of abandoned gas stations, a railyard and a historic oil depot in its downtown area.
The new initiative begins this summer with a number of forums. On the regulatory side, the EPA will work to explain its policy and practices “in simple terms,” according to an agency press release. For industries like mining, the forums offer a place to promote their way of doing things and their successes in environmental efforts.
“By working together and building a strong relationship between the Agency and the regulated community, we can make positive improvements toward maintaining a strong industry while achieving environmental goals,” said Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, in a statement Tuesday.
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