By Sarah Pridgeon
Congressional representatives from Washington arrived in Crook County last week, just in time for Burnout Wednesday. Sundance and the Devils Tower were the last legs of a tour that crossed the northeast from Sheridan, taking in local sights to view the work of private energy and mining companies.
The 27 aides reached Crook County on August 8, staying at the Bear Lodge Mountain Resort after an evening spent enjoying a cocktail party and presentation from Ralph Knode, CEO of sponsors Strata Energy. The next morning, tour members breakfasted at the Sundance Country Club, sponsored by PRECorp.
They were joined by representatives from the city and county, including County Attorney Joe Baron, County Commissioner Jim Hadley, the Public Works team and Sundance City Council Members Ken Denzin and Sheryl Klocker. Ex-mayor Dwight Jundt was also in attendance, alongside current mayor Paul Brooks.
Having toured the Vore Buffalo Jump, the aides listened to a presentation from sponsors Rare Element Resources and PRECorp in the courthouse basement over a pulled pork lunch. After some scheduled free time to experience Burnout Wednesday, they departed for the Devils Tower KOA for a steak dinner sponsored by Neiman Enterprises, including a presentation on the timber industry and the benefits of the mineral industry for higher education.
“It’s been great, I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit. Everyone’s been a wonderful host, all the counties and cities,” said Bruce Miller.
Miller is Legislative Director for Representative Mark Amodei, a congressman from Nevada who sits on the Natural Resources Committee. He joined the tour to experience the energy industry outside his home state.
“[Rep. Amodei] deals with a lot of issues from a federal level, with county commissioners and city managers, city mayors. We have to deal with private energy companies a lot on permitting through the federal agencies,” Miller explained.
“This has given me a good perspective on energy production and how it brings jobs and tourists to the local communities. The Mayor of Gillette was nice enough to take us around town and show us how it’s grown in the last 20 years and how it’s expected to grow in the next 25 based on pure energy production.”
Touring local mines and seeing local practices gave Miller insight into the industry that will be useful in his future work, he said.
“It’s helpful to see the logistics of what private energy companies actually have to go through. We meet mayors from Nevada in similar situations, so it’s good to know Nevada’s not the only state facing these problems, Wyoming is too and all the western states for that matter,” he said.
Permitting, particularly the length of time it takes for a permit to be granted, is a particular focus for Miller.
“That’s a major issue, and that’s what we’ve been working on in Congress to actually try to fix – to get a time-certain process as opposed to dragging out some of these permits for ten years where it’s more about bureaucracy than it is about fact finding, and sometimes more about litigation than it is about the truth,” he said.
Many of the aides had visited Wyoming before, but few had reached the northeast of the state and the newcomers were enjoying the experience.
“I’ve only been to Cheyenne before so northeast Wyoming is a little bit different, a lot of smaller communities,” said Miller, praising the natural beauty and landscapes.
“I’ve seen a lot of hard rock mines but this is the first I’ve seen coal…It was interesting to see how they load the trains, sometimes three or six times a day.”
“I love Wyoming, but I’ve never been to this part so it’s really great to see another side of Wyoming,” agreed Emily Hytha, Communications Director for the Congressional Western Caucus, a coalition of 44 western members in Congress.
“Devils Tower being the nation’s first national monument is obviously hugely historic. We drove by it last night but I’m definitely excited to spend more time there.”
She noted in particular the region’s energy production and the infrastructure and job development it has inspired, commenting that, “What it’s doing for the communities is a really wonderful thing to see first hand.”
The tour’s focus on reclamation has been one of the highlights of Hytha’s visit.
“I think that’s a really important thing for people to see – that the land is put back probably better than it was before, it’s a wonderful thing so see and experience up close,” she said.
Franz Wuerfmannsdobler, Senior Policy Advisor to Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, meanwhile grew up in the west and had visited Wyoming before, but not the northeast.
“I’ve learned more about the community of the resource industry in eastern Wyoming,” he said.
When asked whether the tour would be useful for his future work, Wuerfmannsdobler responded that it would definitely feed in to the bigger picture.
“Not something specifically – there’s always a breakdown between federal activities, state activities and so on,” he said. “But it’s good to have an understanding of what’s happening locally.”