May 18, 2009
Senator Jim Anderson
Majority Floor Leader
92 Running Dutchman
Glenrock, WY 82637
Dear Senator Anderson:
I write to offer the full support of my office as you and the legislative Task Force on Wind Energy engage the many topics that attend wind energy production and transmission in Wyoming. While we are only starting to understand the benefits and other implications of such development in our state, the "gold rush" pace that has attended both the general wind policy discussion - here and around the world - and many of the leasing and development projects in Wyoming necessitates that you have the very best information and data at your immediate disposal. I also write with specific concerns that I know are already part of your Task Force agenda, but that are of such importance that they bear repeating.
Let me begin by noting your extraordinary efforts to distinguish yourself - nearly overnight - as a pre-eminent leader in our state on the issue at hand. It is a testament to your understanding of both your district and the state that you have crafted such a well-balanced and well-intentioned view of wind development and transmission in such a short span of time. You have my sincere thanks for stepping forward to lead in a time of such uncertainty.
With some of the nation's largest natural gas fields, massive amounts of coal and other minerals, hundreds of thousands of acres of grazing and other agricultural lands and approximately 54% of the sage grouse in the world living within our borders - not to mention other world-class wildlife habitats and populations - Wyoming seems to be at the confluence of the great natural resource issues of our time. Add about 50 percent of the best winds in the United States occur in southern Wyoming and, according to some, a Top 10 solar energy portfolio along with the transmission infrastructure that necessarily must attend these new industries, and Wyoming also stands at the headwaters of two entirely divergent courses: one that leads to promise and the other that threatens our way of life. While this may seem melodramatic to some - we in Wyoming know and respect the "razor's edge" on which we are precariously balanced relative to sage grouse and other sensitive wildlife species, our economic sustainability and private property rights.
The people of our state most closely guard the seemingly incongruent principles of certainty and flexibility. We want certainty when we face risk and flexibility to take advantage of new opportunities. With specific regard to sage grouse and other sensitive wildlife populations, I am quite concerned that with changing times in our nation, both politically and otherwise, the regulatory framework of the Endangered Species Act is far from settled. As the ship of conservation lists from side to side, any shift in the ballast of state-led conservation efforts risks a capsized boat. With little room for error, flexibility only exists in the mental contortions of those in Washington and elsewhere that want to inflict more controls on us in the form of great federal designations like those contained in the Northern Rockies wilderness and wild horse legislation currently winding their way through Congress.
Since the inception of our state's core area approach to manage and conserve not only sage grouse but also 79 of Wyoming's 279 Species of Greatest Conservation Need that also inhabit core areas, we have tendered a delicate balance between development and protection. Miners, farmers, ranchers and oil and gas operators have worked to contour their activities to maximize production while they minimize disturbance to core areas. Apart from a passing affinity for sage grouse, pygmy rabbits, pocket gophers and a host of other species, the driver for this balance has largely been enlightened self-interest. Knowing that of the 54% of the world's sage grouse that live in Wyoming, over 82% reside in core areas, most of our traditional industries have been willing to forego new activities in this prime habitat until either populations are re-established elsewhere or technology advances to the point that industrial development and sage grouse are seen as wholly compatible. I cannot speak with the same certainty with regard to wind development.
As the nation moves to some sort of carbon reduction strategy, no matter our individual perspectives on the topic, the advance of wind and solar energy generation, under the broad label of "green energy," has come to Wyoming with a "gold rush" pace - and almost more concerning - "gold rush" mentality. Seemingly every acre - sage grouse core area, private, state and federal lands, important viewsheds and otherwise - is up for grabs in the interest of "green, carbon-neutral technologies" no matter how truly "brown" the effects are on the land. Functionally, it is like taking a short cut to work through a playground full of school children and claiming "green" as a defense because you were driving a Toyota Prius.
To the very sharp point - when we started with the core areas for sage grouse, we had over 82% of the population relatively secured. At that time, we proposed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that we would never drop below a population of 67% in core areas. With the advance of wind, with very preliminary and limited data on potential projects, we know that the footprint of the proposed towers alone would chew up at least 2.44% of Wyoming's core area populations. With a very conservative two-mile impact buffer, the population impact increases to 10.08%. For a three-mile buffer, we jump to 12.69% of core area numbers and at four-miles, which recent research in Kansas suggests may be a reasonable assumption, it elevates to almost 15% of core area populations being affected. To the really troublesome news - these numbers are, as mentioned preliminary and, to the best of our understanding, represent about half of the projects that are currently in the works. Still then, this makes no account for the impacts of transmission lines on sage grouse. Even discounting these potential impacts, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to subtract 15% from 82% and arrive at only 67% of our population - which part-and-parcel represents the "razor's edge" I referenced earlier.
Many with the wind industry have countered these figures by suggesting that even a two-mile buffer is extreme. Unfortunately, they cite nothing in the way of literature or studies to back their assertions - just "common sense." The problem, as we know all too well in the context of wolves, the Preble's mouse and grizzly bears, is that common sense does not play well in Washington - only cold, hard data. As you proceed, given the devastating impact an Endangered Species Act listing would have not only on wind, but all other industries in our state - I would ask that you treat core areas, and other crucial habitats, with added caution - ascribing a "burden-shifting" premise as I have in my sage grouse Executive Order. By burden-shifting, I mean to say that inside core areas and key habitat, the burden is on the developer to show that they will do no harm. Unless and until they have met this burden, with real data, no authorization should be granted - either as a function of Industrial Siting and Development Act authority or otherwise. In contrast, outside of core areas and other crucial habitat, the burden is much relaxed - to the point of expediting permitting for not only wind - but other industrial and non-industrial use.
While sage grouse and other species are of primary concern - given the potential to cripple our economy - I would suggest that the other issue that serves to limit wind's acceptance in Wyoming is what I term the botched and ill-formed answer to the question: "what's in it for me?" With oil and gas and coal, the answer is clear - jobs, significant local revenue, membership in our communities, and the list goes on. Certainly, there are impacts that attend these industries, but for the most part, the benefits of their existence outweigh the localized impact. With wind, we hear of the tax revenues generated as though the industry is going to displace coal and oil and gas as the underpinning of our economy. Unfortunately, the numbers simply do not pencil out. So, beyond sage grouse and other wildlife impacts, I ask that your committee ensure that our state and local governments get a clear answer to the question of "what is in it for me?"
In addition, I would hope that you could elicit honest answers to questions tied to exactly why additional revenue generation for the state and local government is not possible. In my view, absent some better understanding and an enhanced ability to generate not only public, but also private revenue, I cannot easily countenance giving up any more of our state's viewshed, wildlife or open space for so little in return.
Finally, I would ask that you look at the impacts of wind generation - and more so transmission - on private property rights particularly for transmission lines with voltage below the current Industrial Siting and Development Act jurisdiction. I have every assurance, given your leadership, that this will be a centerpiece of the Task Force's effort. We must do all we can to avoid confrontation and attempt to meet everyone's needs - hopefully short of the courtroom. However, given the potential use of condemnation, especially when siting and permitting linear rights-of-way, we must do all we can to guard against abuse and ensure fairness.
To close, we have abundant wind, coal, natural gas, forage, oil and other natural resources in our state. But in the midst of this bounty, are some very finite and precious resources that could serve to derail our ability to take full advantage of these wealth-generating assets. As always, we must balance development with conservation. Fortunately, balance is something that we understand quite well.
I wish you and your Task Force the best as you proceed to discuss and other important issues that relate to wind energy development and transmission. Please do not hesitate to put my good offices to work for the committee.