Weekly News Roundup: Friday, Sept. 10

Miss the headlines this week? Learn more about the race to unseat Rep. Liz Cheney, oil and gas leasing on Wyoming public lands and a debate over local mask tattling.
A new challenger has stepped into the race to unseat Rep. Liz Cheney from her at-large congressional seat. And she's already nabbed a critical endorsement. (Oscar C. Williams/Shutterstock)

by | Sep 10, 2021 | News

A New Cheney Challenger

Former President Donald Trump endorsed Harriet Hageman, an attorney and former gubernatorial candidate in Wyoming, in the race to unseat Rep. Liz Cheney from her at-large congressional seat. Hageman previously advised Cheney in campaigns, but said in a press release Thursday that everything changed when Cheney “betrayed the country” earlier this year by voting to impeach Trump.

Chair of the Teton County GOP Mary Martin said Cheney’s outspokenness against Trump since the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has become a wedge issue for many local Republicans. 

“I’m sensing that there is a great split on where people stand with Liz Cheney. There are those that support what she is doing regarding participating in an investigation on President Trump,” Martin said, “and there are those that feel that she’s providing cover for Nancy Pelosi’s agenda.”

This latest endorsement is another test of Trump’s political influence. While two candidates dropped out of the primary race Thursday following his endorsement, several others have declined to do so yet, which some party officials worry could split the vote. Martin said it’s still early in the race and that Cowboy State residents have several interesting choices to mull over. 

“I have learned a lot in listening to the various perspectives that people have. And I guess my hope would be that people would be willing to listen to each other’s concerns and learn from that rather than argue about their position, because, you know, the truth will win out in the end,” she said.

Cheney responded Thursday to Trump’s endorsement and Hageman’s campaign announcement with a simple message on Twitter: “Bring it.” State analysts predict the 2022 congressional primary race will be the most expensive in the Cowboy State’s history. 

A Blow to Biden’s Climate Agenda

Oil and gas leasing sales on public lands will resume next year following an announcement last week from the Biden administration. Biden placed a moratorium on new oil and gas leases at the beginning of his presidency as part of his climate agenda, but that was met with persistent backlash and lawsuits from the oil and gas industry, as well as several local politicians. Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources back in April. 

“The heart of enlightened, responsible policy lies in fully understanding all of its consequences. This moratorium discriminates against the people of Wyoming [and] against all Western states within our borders,” Gordon said. 

A federal judge in Louisiana ruled in June that oil and gas leasing had to resume, so the Biden administration is trying to comply with that as quickly as possible. This will affect the Cowboy State tremendously, as 459 parcels of land totaling 887 square miles will be up for potential development in 2022. That’s more than any other state by far, according to the Casper Star-Tribune

For his part, Gordon said at a speech in Jackson last week that he hopes oil and gas, and every other major energy source for that matter, remain a part of Wyoming’s economy.

“The sensible energy policy for Wyoming is to be on all fronts a leader,” Gordon said. “And we are on renewables, on fossil fuels [and] on nuclear. We are positioning Wyoming to be a leader in all of those technologies.” 

One energy source that has defined the Cowboy State for decades, though, coal, is fading fast. Wyoming’s largest utility, Rocky Mountain Power, announced recently that it will decommission its entire coal-fired fleet by 2039 while adding to its wind and solar investments. 

Controversy Over Online Mask Reporting Form

The Teton County Board of Commissioners discussed a new online form set up by the county health department where residents can report complaints about violations of the county mask mandate during their regular meeting Tuesday. Several commissioners, including Greg Epstein, expressed concerns about the form after its existence was reported by the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

“I think that we need to have a cease and desist on it immediately,” Epstein said. “There’s already a lot of mistrust in our community and in the country, and I think this is only exacerbating that” 

While at least one commissioner pointed out that the health department does hold some enforcement power, the board is unclear as to whether the new form is actually leading to enforcement or just giving people a place to vent. Chief Deputy Attorney for the county, Keith Gingery, said it was set up to stop residents from flooding the sheriff’s dispatch line with complaints. The commissioners now plan to seek more information from the Sheriff’s Office and the health department.

Maintaining Outdoor Spaces Amid Record-Breaking Summer 

How can Wyoming residents and visitors continue to recreate responsibly as more people flock to public lands across the state? That was the subject of a Zoom forum Wednesday hosted by the Wyoming Outdoor Council. Visitation in national parks surrounding Jackson has been consistently up this year—over Labor Day weekend, 21% more vehicles entered Yellowstone than in 2019, for example. And Chris Floyd of the Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation said he’s seeing similar trends at state parks. 

“What that indicates to us is that the floor has been raised, so to speak,” he said. “In other words, I don’t know if there’s going to be any going back to the way things used to be. It looks like this is going to be a continuing trend for a while and that the curve has changed accordingly.”

Floyd also said there are a lot of new recreationists on public lands, as well as people visiting outdoor areas more often and purchasing more equipment, and that often leads to safety, overcrowding and other concerns. 

In terms of how to fix this issue, most of the conversation throughout the forum came down to resources — the need to make more information available to tourists, more money to build and improve infrastructure, pay staff and update technologies, and more private-public partnerships to facilitate all that change. One attendee asked about a “backpack tax,” or a small hike in gear prices to help pay for conservation and management efforts. Floyd said there’s lots of ways to potentially earn more revenue through state legislation. 

“You know, maybe a Wyomingite pays $10 for a mountain bike sticker and maybe a Coloradon pays $20,” he said. “Like we do on a lot of our other out of state fees to try to monetize some of that use coming from out of state.” 

But others expressed concern that outdoor activity is already expensive, and in many ways only accessible to those with privilege, so it shouldn’t be taxed more. At the end of the day, the jury is still out on what solutions will work best in the effort to preserve and protect Wyoming’s public lands, while at the same time promoting accessibility and visitation in a world increasingly interested in what the Cowboy State has to offer.

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