Cutting red tape to grow Wyo's trona industry

Wyoming is blessed to be a resource-rich state. Developing our abundant natural resources is critical to creating jobs, supporting local businesses and industries and building a stronger, more resilient economy not only in southwest Wyoming but the entire state. However, a dysfunctional federal permitting process often stands in the way of the progress we are making to explore, mine and produce the vast mineral deposits that lie just beneath our feet.

Wyoming is home to the largest trona deposit in the world, covering roughly 1,300 square miles in southwest Wyoming. Trona is the raw mineral that local operators refine into soda ash, which can be used to make an array of useful consumer products, including glass, paper products, laundry detergents and more. Thanks to our abundant supply of trona, soda ash is Wyoming’s biggest export and third-largest developed mineral resource.

The potential of trona mining and development to create jobs and strengthen Wyoming’s economy, however, is being squandered as projects continue to get stuck in the regulatory quagmire that is our nation’s federal permitting process. Lawmakers in Washington must work to reform, streamline and simplify the overly complex permitting and environmental review processes that are creating significant delays not only in mineral development but for a range of economy-building energy, infrastructure and transportation projects.

Trona operators are often hamstrung in their efforts to mine and refine this natural resource by a permitting process that can delay projects for years. In Wyoming in particular, this process is also being manipulated by environmental extremists, hurting the state’s trona industry and the economic benefits it provides. Passing commonsense permitting reform will help advance opportunities for energy and mineral development.

The delays created by our nation’s permitting process have made it commonplace for companies seeking to advance new trona projects to be forced to wait years for approval. There are still permit applications from Wyoming trona developers that were submitted back in 2018 that have yet to receive approval. The unnecessarily long environmental review wait times trona miners face put Wyoming’s soda ash industry at risk from a global commodity perspective, especially as foreign nations like China continue to increase their trona output.

One must question the priorities of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other federal agencies involved in the permitting process when it comes to supporting and advancing our state’s efforts to develop our critical mineral resources. It appears the BLM has forgotten its basic function as an agency in favor of prioritizing environmental initiatives, including resource management plans, sage grouse protection and wind and solar farms—all at the expense of our trona developers and our economy.

The lack of communication and transparency into the federal permitting process prevents developers from advancing critical projects, which hugely disadvantages Wyoming’s mineral and energy businesses. And the lengthy delays created by our overly bureaucratic federal permitting process massively increases costs, many of which can ultimately get passed down to consumers in the form of higher prices.

Reforming the federal permitting process will help Wyoming continue to more efficiently and responsibly develop the natural resources with which we have been blessed. By enabling mineral, energy and infrastructure projects to move forward in a timelier manner, permitting reform would be a boon for Wyoming industries, workers and our entire economy.

The sooner Congress passes permitting reform, the faster Wyoming trona developers and an array of other Wyoming businesses can move forward on projects that will help create jobs, spur economic growth and improve quality of life in our communities. I am thankful to our congressional delegation for their recognition of this critical issue, and I ask them to keep fighting to make meaningful, comprehensive permitting reform a reality.

Representative Jon Conrad serves House District 19 and is a member of the House Minerals, Business & Economic Development Committee and the Agriculture, State and Public Lands & Water Resources Committee.


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