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State Briefs


January 14, 2021

Snow evades area, state classified as in ‘extreme drought’

SHERIDAN (WNE) — Much of Wyoming is still classified as being in an “extreme drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, but it’s the late winter and spring months that will either prolong or break dry conditions this summer.

Parts of Sheridan, Johnson and Natrona counties are also reporting snowpack levels hovering at 75-85% of normal for January, according to a Wyoming SNOTEL report issued Monday. The U.S. seasonal drought outlook is expected to persist through 2021 and possibly spread from the west across southern states from Texas to Florida, according to the drought monitor. Local experts say, though, that it is not unusual to see snowpack pick up in the late winter months.

“The snowpack in the Bighorns is currently on the low end,” Sara Evans Kirol, public affairs officer for the Bighorn National Forest said. “However, this is not uncommon in January.”

As Jim Fahey, a hydrologist at USDA-NRCS explained, basins like the Tongue, Powder and Bighorn rely heavily on late-winter precipitation.

“In a lot of places east of the Continental Divide, up to 60% of the yearly total precipitation can come in that March 15 to early June timeframe,” Fahey said. “That is how crucial that time period is. East of the Continental Divide, November and December are dry. We’ve had years where we have had a lot of moisture, but typically we are very dry.”

That means, he said, there is still time to make up the snowpack levels in February, March and April, but it is the springtime rain that impacts summer conditions.

While some call for Trump’s removal, Wyoming delegation focused on transfer of power

CHEYENNE (WNE) – With some leading Democrats in Washington calling for the immediate removal of President Donald Trump from office after his role in inciting a mob to storm the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Wyoming’s all-Republican congressional delegation has remained focused on ensuring a peaceful transfer of power Jan. 20, providing little comment on the push for impeachment.

Calls for President Trump’s removal, either through the 25th Amendment or congressional impeachment, began soon after the pro-Trump riot inside the nation’s Capitol on Wednesday. 

Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming’s most senior member in Congress, did not explicitly address the calls for Trump’s removal in a brief statement provided Friday to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

“President Trump has conceded the election. Power will be transferred on January 20th,” Barrasso said in the statement. “This is a time for healing for our nation, not additional division.”

A spokeswoman for Sen. Cynthia Lummis, who joined with six other GOP senators in objecting to the certification of election results in Pennsylvania earlier this week, said she agreed with Barrasso that impeachment efforts would only create more strife.

“Senator Lummis believes that for the good of the country, it’s time to set aside our differences and look forward to the peaceful transition of power that will occur on January 20,” press secretary Abegail Cave said in a statement. 

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who placed explicit blame on Trump for having “lit the flame” in the build-up to Wednesday’s riot, had not responded to a request for comment by press time Friday.

Group objects to Eagle Butte mine permit renewal

GILLETTE (WNE) – With more than $50 million in unpaid federal coal royalties still unsettled, a local watchdog group is objecting to an Eagle Specialty Materials application to renew state permits for the Eagle Butte mine near Gillette.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality next week will discuss objections filed by Sheridan-based Powder River Basin Resource Council. The objections include ESM doesn’t have legal access to the federal coal at the mine and that it must give an accurate and updated production projection.

With mining permits renewed every five years, there’s been so much change at Eagle Butte since the last time its permit was up in 2015 that the state needs to be careful to make sure everything’s in order, said Shannon Anderson, staff attorney for the Powder River Basin Resource Council.

It’s been 15 months since ESM took over operations of the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines as part of a messy Blackjewel LLC bankruptcy. Part of the deal was ESM would work with the federal Department of the Interior to satisfy $50.1 million in unpaid Blackjewel royalties. That still hasn’t happened and numerous deadlines to reach a deal have been reset.

The latest extension runs through Friday, but both the Interior Department and ESM have filed motions with the bankruptcy court to extend the deadline to March 31.

“The Debtors (Blackjewel), ESM and the U.S. Department of the Interior, after continuous negotiations, are close to reaching an agreement regarding the terms of the assignment of the Interior Department Leases to ESM,” according to a motion to extend the deadline. “The negotiations have involved several complex matters.”

Jackson hospital CEO: Wyoming not getting its fair share of vaccines

JACKSON (WNE) — Wyoming has not received its fair share of vaccines and citizens need to pressure their state and federal politicians to correct the situation, St. John’s Health CEO Dr. Paul Beaupre said at Friday’s community update.

Beaupre said the federal government has already purchased enough doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to vaccinate roughly a quarter of the U.S. population.

“If you do the math, and you figure it out, by state, we should be getting 120,000 doses,” Beaupre said. “But instead, we were slated to get 45,000 doses.”

He said he and other health officials are working to rectify that and urged people listening to Friday’s community update, livestreamed from Town Hall, to help lobby for more doses for Wyoming. He suggested sending notes to Wyoming’s congressional delegation and state officials.

“We should be treated fairly like every other state and get our hands on our fair share of vaccines,” Beaupre said.

During Friday’s update, health officials also painted a troubling picture of Jackson Hole’s COVID-19 metrics, saying that all indicators — from wastewater monitoring to positivity rates to seven-day rolling averages — were pointing in the wrong direction. The county saw 92 new lab-confirmed cases reported in three days from Friday to Sunday. Teton County is now averaging 29 new cases per day and has the most cases per capita in the state, according to the New York Times coronavirus tracking project.

Beaupre said St. John’s Health is seeing hospitalizations tick back up. 


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