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.

 

Ways to Connect

Wyoming toad
Sara Armstrong / USFWS Mountain-Prairie

While you’re watching the eclipse next week, you might notice a change in the sound of wildlife around you. With the sudden switch from light to dark, along with a temperature drop, the eclipse may affect the behavior of certain animals — like rodents, birds, and amphibians.  

Grant Frost, a biologist with Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department, said, “Some animals will begin to awaken, to stir, because they think that night is coming on . . . you might hear some changes in the calls they make just because they’re thinking they should gather together or whatever the activity is.”

A greater sage-grouse male struts for a female at a lek (dancing or mating ground) near Bridgeport, CA
Jeannie Stafford / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead is concerned about the Interior Department’s recommendations to the sage grouse conservation plans. The federal agency released a report this week outlining recommendations to the 2015 plan, including giving states more leniency in enforcing the rules and changing the focus from habitat management to population goals.

A male Sage Grouse (also known as the Greater Sage Grouse) in the USA
Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from Sacramento, US

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced plans to make fundamental changes to a sage grouse conservation plan adopted under the Obama administration. They could make it easier for ranchers and energy companies to move into sagebrush habitat that’s now off limits. 

Cooper McKim

At the center of the dusty Pinedale-Anticline field looking over the Wind River Range, Erika Tokarz stands on Ultra Petroleum’s  Riverside 9-2 pad which is home to several wellheads. Across the road, workers in hard-hats and sunglasses crisscross the plot of land with a massive tower at its center, working to drill a hole for natural gas. 

 

POWDER RIVER BASIN RESOURCE COUNCIL

The Environmental Quality Council, or EQC, will not accept a permit for the proposed Brook Mine. The independent review board is made up of five council members. In a four to one vote, the EQC decided the permit application was incomplete.

The council brought up several deficiencies with the permit application including lack of information on subsidence, the costs of land reclamation, and effects on hydrology. All members agreed Brook Mine LLC should have held sessions for public input before it submitted a permit application. 

The sign at the entrance to Yellowstone National Park
Wikimedia Commons: Guerillero

The Department of Interior will contribute $53 million to the National Park Service this year with funds going to 42 parks including Grand Teton and Yellowstone. The goal of the incoming money will be to address high priority maintenance projects. For Yellowstone, that means improving trails, retaining walls, and overlooks for the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Cooper McKim

A conservation group has expressed skepticism about a federal grant announced by Ramaco Carbon, LLC, a coal company that intends to build a mine north of Sheridan. Ramaco recently announced a $7 million grant from the Department of Energy to develop low-cost carbon-fiber components made from coal instead of oil.

Proposed Brook Mine Land
Cooper McKim

A press release from Ramaco, a Kentucky-based coal company, says the Department of Energy has awarded it a $7 million grant.  The grant is geared towards developing a low-cost carbon fiber using coal as the raw material. Carbon fiber is traditionally made with oil.

 

Second to last day of contested-case hearing in front of the Environmental Quality Council
Cooper McKim

Earlier this summer, a permit for the first new coal mine to open in Wyoming in 50 years was on trial before the state’s Environmental Quality Council, or E.Q.C. It took a full seven days of hearings, with three groups against the permit, and two groups in favor, testifying before the council in a windowless room in Cheyenne.  

Now, the council has until August to make their decision.

 

Public Lands in Wyoming
Bob Wick, BLM / Bureau of Land Management

Environmental groups filed a brief in federal court last Friday to halt oil and gas leasing on select public lands in Wyoming. They say development on that public land should stop there until the amount of greenhouse gases and their effect on the climate are fully understood.   

CC0 Public Domain

  

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a repeal of an Obama-era regulation putting more wetlands and waterways under the protection of the Clean Water Act. The regulation is called Water of the United States, or WOTUS.

Supporters say the bill helps consolidate the authority of interstate and navigable waters. Opponents say it encroaches on state authority. Farmers and developers worry the rule would be a headache to follow, because they often have bodies of water on their own land.

Rocky Mountain Power is investing $3.5 billion in expanding its wind energy portfolio. They’re looking for approval from three states including Wyoming to begin the project. 

The power company hopes to build new turbines along a 140-mile segment between Idaho and Wyoming. They also plan to make existing turbines more efficient, installing longer blades as well as new cells. Cells are the compartments that hold the blades together and generate electricity. 

By United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg: Architect of the Capitolderivative work: O.J. - United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17800708
Part of the land where the proposed Brook Mine may be dug
Cooper McKim

On a clear, sunny day, Jeff Barron drives over a copper-colored hill in the Powder River Basin near Sheridan. He parks, hops out of his car and walks to the edge of a large open field. Cows are grazing in the distance.

 

He says a new coal operation would start right here.

 

"It will mine out coal some 2,000 feet that way and 2,000 feet that way,” Barron says.

 

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. 

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