CASPER — In October, representatives from all 50 states submitted community development proposals to the federal government’s $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge.
Of the 529 applications — four of which came from Wyoming — 60 have been selected as finalists for up to $100 million in project funding, the Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced Monday. None of Wyoming’s projects advanced to the final round of review.
The EDA has earmarked one third of its $3 billion American Rescue Plan appropriation to support coal communities’ transition to new industries, and it named 12 coal communities across several states, including West Virginia and Utah, as finalists for $100 million in designated Build Back Better Regional Challenge funds.
Most finalists’ proposals target economic sectors other than energy, such as water, health care and agriculture.
Like Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota — both right-leaning coal states — were not represented among the finalists. Some Wyoming leaders feel the omission was personal.
“I am furious that this administration has turned its back on the number one coal-producing state, but given their track record to date, I am not surprised,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in a Monday statement. “Wyoming coal communities were absolutely ignored in our efforts to deploy new technologies. These decisions are clearly political and not based on merit.”
Wyoming Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis and Rep. Liz Cheney also denounced the EDA’s announcement, with Barrasso calling it “a slap in the face to our coal communities, energy workers and their families.”
The state’s four proposals came from the Wyoming Energy Authority, the University of Wyoming, the city of Cheyenne and Energy Capital Economic Development in Campbell County.
The Energy Authority hoped to facilitate the adoption of emerging technologies, like clean hydrogen and advanced nuclear, that would allow the state to build on its existing energy resources and infrastructure; the University of Wyoming wanted to advance entrepreneurship, tourism and computing; Cheyenne proposed constructing rail service between the city and Larimer County, Colorado, to boost access for rural communities and reduce congestion along I-25; and Campbell County aimed to establish a coal-to-products industry in order to keep its mines operating even after utilities move away from the fuel.
All four projects will be eligible for future federal funding opportunities enabled by the infrastructure bill, including more specialized grant programs focused on technologies like hydrogen and nuclear.
And not everyone in the state believes the EDA’s decision not to advance the proposals as part of the Build Back Better Regional Challenge was a snub.
“The Economic Development Administration is a federal agency, and so tries to provide services across the United States,” said Anja Bendel, program director for the Wyoming Energy Authority. “Unfortunately for Wyoming, just the way we are, being so very rural — our industries that we support don’t fit the categories that the Economic Development Administration really is emphasizing.”
Developing the proposal gave the Energy Authority an opportunity to consider community issues individually and as part of the state’s energy transformation, Bendel said.
The agency aims to sustain the momentum it built and the partnerships it established throughout the application process as it seeks alternate funding sources.
“There’s still a need for what we propose,” she said.