The Mining Industry In Wyoming Is About To Clash Over Property Rights

The Mining Industry In Wyoming Is About To Clash Over Property Rights

A property rights conflict may soon arise in Wyoming’s mining sectors.

Representative Ben Hornok, a Republican from Cheyenne, has proposed a bill that, if approved, would allow surface rights owners to stop mining minerals on their property for any reason, with the exception of coal and trona mining, which would remain exempt. The 2024 legislative session is scheduled to start on February 12.

According to analysts, the action may upend state-wide federal mining restrictions that have been in place for a century.

According to Cowboy State Daily, Hornok wrote the plan soon after being elected in November 2022, when a ranching constituent in his Cheyenne district brought up the property rights issue.

The rancher took Hornok to task for failing to properly restore his grazing pasture to its pre-mining state when the mining operation was shut down.

According to Hornok, “the rancher looked at the land and it wasn’t what he had agreed to.” “His land from the mine was graded, so he can no longer use it for cattle grazing.”

In his Laramie County district, Hornok refused to reveal the identity of the rancher or the mine owner.

“I’m not trying to stifle industry,” Hornok declared, adding that his law would facilitate surface rights owners’ decision-making over the acceptance or rejection of reclamation schemes.

According to Hornok, mining companies currently alter reclamation plans in a piecemeal manner, making “minor changes” without informing the state’s Department of Environmental Quality of potential larger changes.

He added that opponents of the plan who are observing from the sidelines are concerned about surface rights owners getting more authority at the expense of miners.

According to Kelli Little, Associated General Contractors of Wyoming’s director of public affairs, “the bill would affect how mines are permitted if it proceeds.” She calculates that roughly 25% of the 70 members of her group work in aggregate mining, extracting gravel that is used to pave potentially affected highways.

She remarked, “It would violate the rights of surface permit holders and mineral rights holders.”

“The Wyoming Mining Association’s executive director, Travis Deti, stated that the bill, as written, would have a very significant impact on the mining industry.” “We are currently reviewing the bill.”

Cracking Open a Door?

Some people are also sucking their fingernails.

Ernie Skretteberg, shareholder vice president of McGarvin-Moberly Construction Co. in Worland, stated, “I can tell you from the standpoint of a heavy construction company, anytime you permit an aggregate operation and the federal government is the mineral owner, we avoid that at all costs.”

Regarding his heavy construction company that constructs highways, he continued, “We avoid it all costs as there is too much complexity involved and a lot of bloody battles in court over the royalties paid to the owners.” “The legislation could have a negative impact on our industry and the public works industries obtaining easements and rights of way, depending on how this presents itself.”

The proposed legislation, according to Tyler Lindholm, a former Crook County lawmaker and state director for the Americans for Prosperity chapter in Wyoming, locks up natural resources rather than attempting to establish common ground.

Lindholm stated, “They don’t want to mess with the piggy bank,” referring to the possible detrimental effects the idea would have on the state budget’s economy.

According to Lindholm’s interpretation of the situation, “if any changes are made to a permit, the surface owner could freeze out a mineral rights owner.” “You have to consider the possibility of job loss for employees in the event of a mining operation shutdown.”

Furthermore, there’s a chance that the bill will make it easier for groups opposed to mining to get those surface rights and use them to stop operations.

According to Lindholm, “this is not the current standard.” Wyoming upholds the rights of both property owners to their properties. In terms of mineral activity, owners of surface and mineral rights are equally weighted. Surface owners would have more power under this proposed legislation, and they would be able to stop any mineral exploitation.

He added that there may be further unexpected consequences to the plan.

According to Lindholm, the plan puts Hornok and the other bill sponsors in odd bedfellows with the Biden administration’s Bureau of Land Management initiative to restrict trona mining in southwest Wyoming.

Lindholm stated, “The Biden administration wants to lock up natural resources.” “Some members who lean conservative want to seize control of the entire state.” It ultimately boils down to rights of surface. Additionally, the proposal may harm Wyoming’s miners in the developing rare earth and lithium industries financially.

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