Washington, D.C. -- In a swift move to protect Wyoming coal bed methane (CBM) leaseholders in wake of a recent court decision, Wyoming elected leaders are asking the Interior Department to rely on current federal policy that distinguishes methane gas from coal.
In a letter Wednesday to Secretary Bruce Babbitt, U.S. Senators Craig Thomas, Mike Enzi, Representative Barbara Cubin and Governor Jim Geringer wrote that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision to reclassify CBM is "completely contrary to past interpretation and practice, and will severely impact CBM leaseholders in Wyoming."
Because of the potential impact on jobs and royalties to local communities the delegation asked that, pending an expected appeal of the July 20 decision, the 89 year old interpretation of the law, reaffirmed by the Interior Department in 1981 and 1990, should apply.
Congressional delegation members also indicated today that a legislative solution is in the works.
In the letter to Babbitt the group wrote, "We respectfully request that until all of the appeals and proceedings before the judiciary are completed, the Interior Department proceed with CBM leases and production based on current practices under the 1981 Solicitor's opinion."
"This is the only equitable solution that will not completely disrupt the lives of CBM producers and current royalty owners."
The Senators and Congressman added that they plan to introduce legislation in September that would grandfather current leases should the court decision not be overturned.
"For those individuals who entered into agreements in good faith there should be a reasonable expectation that the current policy should apply," the delegation said. "It is critical that their rights be protected and that the royalties many of our communities rely on continue during the appeals process."
Defendants in the recent decision are considering an appeal before the United States Supreme Court. A process that could take years.