Cooper McKim

Natural Resources & Energy Reporter

Phone: 307-766-0809
Email: cmckim5@uwyo.edu

Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and now Wyoming. In South Carolina, he covered recovery efforts from a devastating flood in 2015. Throughout his time, he produced breaking news segments and short features for NPR. Cooper recently graduated from Tufts University with degrees in Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.

 

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POWDER RIVER BASIN RESOURCE COUNCIL

The Powder River Basin Resource Council is taking issue with a proposed tax break to the uranium industry. Industry representatives say the cuts are necessary to help boost production and pricing. Opponents say the strategy has been tried twice without success.

In a report, the Wyoming Mining Association wrote the industry is facing near historically low prices and has had to lay off employees. Prices have dropped about 85% since 2007. 

Photograph obtained by Wyoming Untrapped
Provided by Wyoming Untrapped

The Game and Fish Department continues to search for a grizzly bear with a steel trap caught on its right foot. Someone photographed the bear walking near the Bridger-Teton Forest on May 31. 

The day after the blurry photograph was taken, someone alerted the Game and Fish Department of the injured bear. Dan Thompson, large carnivore section supervisor at the Department, said they quickly jumped into action. 

"Since then, we’ve been monitoring on a daily base both on the ground and with some flights . . . I flew over the area directly last week,” Thompson said. 

Department of Interior Logo
U.S. Department of Interior

Grizzly bears in the greater Yellowstone National Park have been removed from the endangered species list. The bear has been considered endangered since 1975 when there were only 150 of them remaining. Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke said, with a population now close to 700 in the area, the species has been sufficiently recovered. Governor Matt Mead agreed saying it's been true since 2003. 

The decision will put management into the hands of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and local tribes in about a month. 

South-facing slope covered in cheat grass near medicine bow forest
Cooper McKim

Near Medicine Bow Forest, there’s a scenic road that cuts in between a valley. The north face is shaded, covered with small flowers, trees, and dark green plant life — edible to deer and small animals. The south face doesn’t look so good.

Lindsey Wheat, Supervisor at the Albany County Weed and Pest Council, said, “You see over here on this slope, you see nothing but rocks, cheat grass, not a lot of animals are going to hang out in there."

EQC Hearing at the Game and Fish Department in Cheyenne
Cooper McKim

A hearing that will decide the fate of Wyoming’s first potential new coal mine in decades has come to an end. Ramaco’s Brook Mine would be built in Sheridan in the Tongue River Valley.

The Environmental Quality Council, or EQC, heard seven days of testimony from landowners, geologists, and regulators. A central question during the hearing was how the mine would affect water sources in the area. There was a coal mine in the area several decades ago that caused many wells to be drawn down.

Elk
Wikimedia Commons

Four conservation groups filed a lawsuit to challenge a Jackson Elk feeding ground. The area is at Alkali Creek in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

The Wyoming Game and Fish manages feeding grounds as a strategy to bait and concentrate animals for an extended period of time. The goal is to protect the vulnerable animals from harsh conditions and predators.  

The U.S. Forest Service permitted this particular feeding ground for the Jackson Elk. But Sierra Club’s Lloyd Dorsey said these feeding grounds aren’t protection at all. 

U.S. Department of State

President Trump has decided to leave the 2015 Paris climate agreement and many advocates in the coal industry say the move will be beneficial for Wyoming.

Coal production has been in decline for close to a decade and Wyoming’s congressional delegation says that leaving the climate agreement could help turn that around. Economists, though, often blame natural gas and renewable energy as reasons for coal's decline - not regulation.

Governor Matt Mead said Wyoming will need more than this for the coal industry to rebound. 

Volunteers carrying toads down to Mortenson Lake
Cooper McKim / Wyoming Public Radio

The Endangered Species Act is threatened. Or at least facing significant reform. Momentum in Congress and in western states is building to make changes to the landmark regulation that protects threatened animal and plant species and their habitats. 

United States Department of the Interior

The Department of Interior is facing budget cuts of $1.6 billion. A summary of the proposed budget shows reductions in wildlife management while boosting funds for oil and gas development. Conservationists say this will have an effect here in Wyoming.

The proposed budget would reduce funding for endangered species, fisheries and wildlife management including almost $30 million less for sage grouse protection. It would also increase funds for programs ensuring oil and gas management while reducing permitting fees.

Cooper Mckim

It’s a sunny day outside Midwest School in northeast Natrona County as mud-swept trucks pull into a gas station across the street. Sue Green serves food inside the Big D convenience store. She’s the mother of three students from the school.

She said, “The one just turned about 15, the other one about ready to turn 12 and the other’s one 5 and a half.”

Cooper McKim / Wyoming Public Radio

A Natrona County school that closed last year due to a gas leak is nearly ready to re-open. A new ventilation system has been installed and one round of air sampling tests shows encouraging results.

Staff and students at the Midwest School noticed a gas-like odor at the end of the school year in 2016. It turned out an inactive natural gas well was releasing dangerous contaminants inside the building. 

Rocky Mountains, Wind River Range
Provided by Wikipedia

A flood watch is active in the north central part of Wyoming. Recent warm weather combined with a spring snow storm is speeding up the already high levels of runoff in the state’s mountains.  

Streams in the eastern and central part of the state are also beginning to run high: in the Shoshone, Big Horn, Wind, and Powder River Basins.  

In the Wind River Mountains, snow pack is 237-percent higher than usual according to the emergency management agency in Fremont County. 

©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York/Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.

The National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole is 30 years old this month. The museum is celebrating the occasion by curating two new exhibits from its permanent collection, both with a sharp eye towards conservation. 

Since its arrival in 1987, the museum has moved to a new location and grown its permanent collection to include pieces by Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe, and Andy Warhol, and one of the exhibits opening for the anniversary is Warhol’s Endangered Wildlife portfolio. 

Oil prices have shot up in the U.S. after Russia and Saudi Arabia announced they would continue limiting supply of petroleum to the global market. They’re the two largest oil exporting nations.

Higher oil prices should increase production temporarily in Wyoming. Right now, production in the state is down 14% compared to last year. 

John Wilhelm

Listen to the full show here. 

UW Braces For Layoffs

At the May meeting of the Board of Trustees, President Laurie Nichols announced that 37 University of Wyoming staff members would lose their jobs to meet budget cuts. Wyoming Public Radio’s education reporter Tennessee Watson, says folks are worried about how the state’s only public university is holding up.

Chris Drury

In late 2010, English sculptor Chris Drury visited the University of Wyoming's campus. The school had commissioned artwork from him, though he still hadn’t decided what to make. As he spoke with locals around Laramie, Drury learned how trees in the Rockies were dying due to warmer winters due to climate change. He wanted to draw a connection between the trees' downfall and the state’s contribution to global warming through the coal, oil and gas industries.

Earthworks

The U.S. Senate decided not to overturn the Obama era methane rule, which seeks to limit the venting and flaring of methane by oil and gas drillers on federal land. 

In a tight vote, three Republicans sided with Democrats in rejecting the rollback of the methane regulation.

Supporters of the rule said it keeps the air clean in states like Wyoming with widespread gas development on public lands. Opponents said the rule is redundant with state and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations already in place.

Oil production continues to fall in Wyoming. The first records of the state’s production in 2017 show it’s down about 14% from the same time last year. 

Oil and gas commissioner Tom Fitzsimmons said that decline is likely to continue. To stop it, prices would need to stabilize first around $55 per barrel while they have recently been between $46 and $48 per barrel.

Fitzsimmons said prices are driven up if there's less supply, though that supply keeps on coming. He pointed to the state’s network of ducts

spglobal.com

S & P global ratings downgraded Wyoming’s credit rating from Triple-A to a Double-A-Plus. That means the next time Wyoming tries to borrow money, it will likely see a higher interest rate.

It’s like applying for a mortgage — if you have a high credit rating, you’ll pay lower interest rates. As Wyoming faces a downgrade in its credit rating, the same idea applies.

This is because there’s less money coming into the government’s coffers due to and low contributions to retirement funds.

Peabody Energy announced a huge increase in revenue for its first quarter of 2017. Many see this as a victory for the struggling energy industry, while some don’t believe it will last.

 

Peabody Energy is the largest coal mining firm in the world. They went bankrupt the first quarter of last year. At their Wyoming complex, the company laid off 15% of their workforce. 

ecoflight.org

Jonah Energy, a Colorado-based oil and gas company, will soon own nearly 100 percent of natural gas reserves in western Wyoming — the eighth largest natural gas field in the country. The investment is a vote of confidence in an industry that’s seen declining prices in recent years.