KEMMERER — On the afternoon of Monday, August 12, approximately 40 local residents gathered at the South Lincoln Training and Events Center in Kemmerer to meet with and pose questions to Senator Mike Enzi. The Republican senator from Wyoming came to Kemmerer as part of his ongoing tour of the state, which is entitled “Listening Sessions: Collecting Common Sense from Wyoming for Washington.” The Listening Session began with members of the community posing questions and sharing their ideas and opinions with Enzi. Once everyone who wanted to speak had their opportunity, Enzi addressed all of the questions and comments one-by-one. Following the formal hour-long Listening Session, the senator spoke individually with attendees and shared refreshments.
During the first portion of the event, several recurring themes came up in the questions, comments, and concerns voiced by the community. Perhaps the most applicable topic, as far as local residents are concerned, involved the Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional Haze program. As part of the 1977 Clean Air Act, the Regional Haze regulatory program was established to improve visibility in National Parks and Wilderness Areas. Congress specified that because Regional Haze is an aesthetic regulation and does not affect public health, the states — not the EPA — should be the decision makers. However, the EPA has exploited a loophole in the program in recent years, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in annual emission control costs to ratepayers in several states.
Because of the state’s plentiful energy production and vast expanses of federally protected land, the EPA has recently focused its sights on Wyoming. In June of 2012, the EPA partially disapproved Wyoming’s proposed Regional Haze plan and imposed a federal implementation instead. In a report published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce regarding the EPA and Regional Haze, the staggering differential in annual cost between Wyoming’s plan and the EPA’s is detailed: “The agency’s preferred plan would cost almost $96 million more than the state’s plan, to achieve an indiscernible visibility ‘improvement.’” Wyoming’s proposed controls total $12 million per year in costs, whereas the EPA’s controls place the annual cost at $108 million. These alarming figures fueled passionate comments from local residents on Monday, and Enzi expressed his shared concern over the matter. The senator assured his audience that he and the Republican Party are fighting the current status of the Regional Haze program and that he understands the urgency involved in changing the program for the state of Wyoming.
Several residents who were in attendance on Monday voiced their concern regarding Obamacare. How is it going to be funded? How will it affect my taxes? Will I be forced to change doctors?
Similar to his response to the topic of Regional Haze, Senator Enzi voiced his disagreement with many different aspects of the Obamacare program. First and foremost, Enzi cited the re-allocation of $716 billion in (formerly) Medicare funds to help finance Obamacare. The senator reiterated the importance of the Medicare program to millions of Americans, taking issue with the removal of so much funding from an already struggling service.
Beyond the issue of funding for Obamacare, Senator Enzi cited a public campaign launched recently by a group of the nation’s largest labor unions. The unions were fundamental in the passage of the healthcare law, but they recently discovered that much of what they were promised and what they fought for is either contradicted or not provided for under Obamacare.
“When you and the President sought our support for the Affordable Care Act, you pledged that if we liked the health plans we have now, we could keep them. Sadly, that promise is under threat…We have been strong supporters of the notion that all Americans should have access to quality, affordable health care. We have also been strong supporters of you. In campaign after campaign we have put boots on the ground, gone door-to-door to get out the vote, run phone banks and raised money to secure this vision. Now this vision has come back to haunt us,” stated a letter from three of the nation’s largest unions to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.
Despite the outcry coming from all across the country on the topic of Obamacare, Enzi reminded everyone of the difficulties involved in repealing the program. Because Obama would be sure to veto a majority vote to repeal Obamacare, the vote would return to Congress; at that point, both the Senate and the House of Representatives would need 67 percent of the vote in order to overturn the Presidential veto.
The last major topic that was covered at the Listening Session was the national debt crisis. Residents voiced concern because it seems as if nothing is being done in Washington, D.C. to curtail the soaring debt problem and begin to remedy the situation. Senator Enzi, in response, detailed a bill called the Penny Plan that he sponsored and introduced. The Penny Plan, according to Enzi, would balance the federal budget within two years by applying a 1 percent reduction in spending across the board. The plan would essentially remove one penny from every dollar spent by the federal government over the two-year period. Following those two years, a cap would be placed on total spending, which would not be allowed to exceed about 19 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. “Everybody should be able to live with one percent less in order to help bring this country back from the brink of catastrophic failure,” stated Senator Enzi when he introduced the bill.
Overall, the Listening Session was a productive collaboration between Senator Enzi and local residents. And taking into account the theme of his Listening Sessions and the straight-forward essence of legislation such as the Penny Plan, some of the first words that came out of Sen. Enzi’s mouth were perfectly fitting: “Wyoming is where common sense comes from.”