January 17th, 2014
Many of our reporting in the past has led us to conversations with angry landowners, and folks who have concerns about industry’s effects on the environment and human health. As you’ll hear in this show, the concerned parties aren’t always satisfied with the answers regulators provide. But before we get into that, we wanted to give regulators an opportunity to have their say. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov spoke with the Director of the Department of Environmental Quality, Todd Parfitt. The DEQ is in charge of regulating many aspects of industrial production in the state. Irina, what did you find out?
We’ve reported often on the effects that energy production can have on air quality. The most obvious example is Pinedale, where federal ambient air quality standards were violated, largely because of emissions from natural gas production. Regulators say the air elsewhere in the state is fine. But some worry that Wyoming doesn’t have a sufficient monitoring network to know for sure. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.
Some landowners with oil and gas wells on their property complain about emissions affecting their air quality and health. But though there may be a lot of wells, they’re considered small facilities, so their cumulative effects are never counted up and regulations are more lax than for large emitters. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov reports that that could be a problem since in aggregate, their pollution can be significant.
Wyoming’s biggest export is soda ash, which comes from trona mines in Sweetwater County. Last year, the trona industry produced 17 million tons of soda ash for which the state received nearly $90 million in various taxes and royalties. But as Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov report, the industry has a dirty side, too.
Wyoming regulators recorded hundreds of spills by the oil and gas industry last year, but issued just a handful of fines. As Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, that’s actually not unusual.
For many years, Wyoming lawmakers have been reluctant to impose new regulations on industry. At the national level, the congressional delegation has been highly critical anytime the Environmental Protection Agency proposes new regulations on energy production, saying that it costs jobs. State leaders have echoed those statements, and over the years many legislators have even expressed concern about adding staff to the Department of Environmental Quality, fearing that it could lead to over regulation.
In many cases, the thinking is that if you add regulations and make it tougher for industry to operate, industry will leave. So we asked economist Roger Coupal at UW’s Department of Ag and Applied Economics, whether that’s true.
There are a number of contaminated sites across the state that are expensive to clean up. The contamination comes from a variety of sources including industrial sites and businesses that use chemicals. Because of the cost and rigorous standards, it was difficult to get these sites cleaned up in a timely matter. Several years ago the state decided to make it easier for companies to clean up the contamination. They did this through two programs. Those involved say it has led to quicker cleanup and provided communities with economic opportunities. Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports.
Regulation has been a hot-button topic when it comes to worker safety in Wyoming over the last few years. Despite pressure from worker advocacy groups, legislators have been reluctant to write new laws tackling workplace injuries and fatalities, instead opting for an incentives-based approach.
Dr. Mack Sewell is the state’s occupational epidemiologist. He’s been on the job for about a year and a half, and he recently spoke with Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce about his latest report on workplace accidents, released in November, and how the state should move forward.