By Sarah Pridgeon
Visiting Sundance for the annual Lincoln Day Dinner, Senator Mike Enzi muses that developments such the Rare Element Resource mine at Bull Hill and Strata’s uranium mine near Oshoto could contribute to a bright future for the area. A resurgence of Republicans in the U.S. Senate this year may also bring positive effects, he says.
“I think they’ve been working it diligently and it’s something that we really need,” he says of the forthcoming Bull Hill mine.
“China is buying up all the rare earth they can get and starting to limit how much of it they will sell, and it’s an essential ingredient of a number of things. If they control that, they’ll control the energy because they’re also buying up any energy that they can.”
Senator Enzi was the mayor of Gillette during the boom time, he says, and remembers people questioning whether the city really wanted coal development.
“Well, when the nation panics over something, you’d better be ready for it already because the nation’s going to get it,” he says.
“Preparation is really important on this because there’s going to be a crisis over rare earths.”
The senator believes there’s every indication the mine could be a huge boom job-wise for Wyoming and especially for this area. He feels similarly about the Strata uranium mine.
“Wyoming’s doing really well compared to the rest of the nation, but Wyoming’s not doing as well as it could because of a lot of the federal regulations that have been coming down,” he continues.
“There’s a whole bunch of overreach happening; some of it’s subtle, some of it’s pretty blatant and all of it is wrong. Wyoming has been able to take care of itself for a long time and particularly the people who work the land know they need to preserve the land or they’re not going to have anything to work on.”
When he takes visitors on tours of the coal mines, he says that they are always impressed by the reclamation that takes place when a mine reaches the end of its life. It’s important to get as many people as possible out here to see how we go about things, he says.
“There’s a huge overreach by the Environmental Protection Agency, we’re noticing it over by Riverton right now,” he says, saying that towns like Thermopolis, Lander and Pinedale ought to be concerned that a 50 mile buffer around the reservation allows federal influence over a third of Wyoming – especially the energy producing areas.
“It’s my impression that they did this in order to shut those down and to prevent the extensions from happening. A lot of Wyoming’s jobs and revenue comes from whether we develop energy or not and the rest of the nation should be pleased that we would willingly share it with them,” says the Senator.
“I get a little tired of the myths, because a myth can run around the world while the truth is trying to get its tennis shoes on…Just about anyone we can get to come here goes away pretty impressed.”
The Affordable Care Act
Less positive is Enzi’s view of Obamacare.
“The Democrats would really like to find a way out of it without making any changes and the President doesn’t worry about it because he just uses his pen to make changes,” he says.
“One of the last things Cynthia [Lummis] and the House did before they left town a couple of days ago was to pass a bill that would remove the mandates from individuals.”
Though this bill will inevitably die in the Senate, he says, there is hope for the future.
“If we were to get a Republican majority, we could be putting bills on his desk that actually reversed the things that he does, and then he’d have to explain them some more – maybe even sign some of them,” he says.
“I tried to make the President’s statement true, that if you like your insurance you can keep it, but every single Democrat voted against me.”
Election season 2014
“I think, if an election were held right now, that we’d pick up at least six seats, probably seven or eight seats, in the Senate,” says Enzi.
He believes there are plenty of senators in trouble over their stance on Obamacare and other states likely to lean towards Republican candidates thanks to the economy.
He mentions a possible Republican win in states such as North Carolina, Arkansas, Alaska, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia and Michigan. Some of these would bring Republican success for the very first time.
“If that were all to come to pass, for one thing Senator McConnell would be the leader and we could go back to running the Senate the way that it worked,” he says.
“We have 45 senators right now in their first term, so they’ve never seen the Senate the way it can work, that it should work, and that it will work.”
The Senate did have a brief glimpse recently, he adds, when a child development block grant was dealt with through the old way of allowing people to bring amendments.
“I got to do the first amendment – and it’s the first Republican amendment that’s passed in a year and a half,” Senator Enzi says.
“I’m really well-positioned to do a lot of these things because it’s still a seniority-based system and I’m the most senior person on health, education, labor and pensions. I’m the most senior person on budget and it’s been five years since we’ve really done a budget the way it should be done.”
If the government stopped spending one cent out of every dollar, he notes, the budget would be balanced in seven years. If this was combined with sequestration where the worst spending was cut first, the budget could be balanced in just two years.
“I’m the most senior person on the small business committee and I think I’m the only accountant on the finance committee in the history of the finance committee, which explains how we got taxes so screwed up in the first place,” he smiles.
“If we got the majority, I could be the subcommittee chairman for tax reform, that would be exciting. I’m the second most conservative person in the United States Senate, but I’m also second in having the most bipartisan bills.”