From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 36 - September 6, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Big local turnout for Barrasso visit

by Alecia Warren

After meeting with agency representatives and local government in Pinedale last Wednesday, Sen. John Barrasso faced more than 100 people at the town meeting he held at Rendezvous Pointe.

The meeting marked the 29th of Barrasso’s 30 visits to Wyoming towns (exceeding his original promise of hitting 23 counties), and he parked his fists on his hips as he reported his astonishment at the turnout.

“This is the smallest county we’ve visited, so we were told to expect the smallest turnout, but this is the biggest I’ve seen yet,” said the trim senator from Casper.

Dressed in a blue-and-white plaid shirt, blue jeans and cowboy boots, Barrasso quickly charmed the audience as he launched into freshman senator anecdotes. Sworn into his first session of Congress on June 22 to replace the late Sen. Craig Thomas, Barrasso represents an undecided congressional vote, which the crowd, stuffed with about 70 more people than the number that attended Sen. Mike Enzi’s town meeting two weeks ago, made clear they wanted to follow Thomas’ lead in restricting land leased for oil and gas development.

Barrasso has yet to introduce legislation to limit drilling in the northern region of the county, which Sen. Thomas had supported and begun drafting. Since taking office, Barrasso said he wouldn’t pursue action until hearing all opinions on his tour of Wyoming this summer.

Opinions were clear enough at the meeting, where a long string of complaints emphasized development’s burdens on local infrastructure and the environment.

“The revenue (from oil and gas development) is great, but there are other impacts in Sublette County,” said Linda Cooper, a Hoback Ranches resident and member of the Stop Drilling, Save Bridger-Teton organization. “Senator Thomas thought drilling around the forest was a bad idea, and he planned to protect land along the Wyoming Range. But unfortunately,he passed away and left all that hanging, so my question is, what do you intend to do?”

Several others echoed vehement opposition to drilling that elicited explosive applause from the audience, including one man who urged the senator to linger beneath the Bridger-Teton’s trees, swim in its creeks, compare to the current state of the Jonah Field and the anticline, and then “get back to us” about compatible interest.

Barrasso listened intently, frowning slightly and adjusting his spectacles as he waited for everyone to finish. “There are some areas in Wyoming so pristine they need to be protected,” he said with a nod. “Senator Thomas was working on a bill, he made a first draft and a second draft, and I’m telling the people who helped Thomas with those to make a third draft.”

Prior to the town meeting, Barrasso stopped by the Pinedale Bureau of Land Management office, where BLM and Forest Service representatives gave the senator a rundown on current oil and gas leases, as well as eco-friendly measures operators are pursuing on the Jonah Field and anticline. Afterward, the county commissioners explained to the senator their recent hiring of Ecosystems Research Group to conduct an assessment of socioeconomic impacts from oil and gas development.

Commissioners Bill Cramer and Joel Bousman told the senator they hoped to use the information to enlighten operators as well as state and federal governments during discussions of future drilling, and asked Barrasso to help arrange meetings between the county and whoever necessary to prepare for additional impacts projected in the assessment.

“His reaction was that he’d be very willing to help, and he admitted he’s new and has a lot to learn, which I was pleasantly impressed with,” Bousman said. “I think he’s really going to try and represent the people of Wyoming, including Sublette County.”

Barrasso already has unusual sway in Congress for a novice senator, boasting a place on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which his predecessor was a board member of.

“The committee is usually based on seniority, but I convinced Congress that there has been a Wyoming senator on that committee every year since 1898,” Barrasso said during the town meeting. “I’m going to be there every day, but I’m also going to be hee, listening to you.”

In between his 21 days in Congress so far, he added, he’s spent every weekend in Wyoming, which he plans to continue throughout his term.

Nose-diving into federal politics might appear treacherous, but Barrasso has been keeping his head far above water in other leadership positions for years. He served Natrona County in the Wyoming State Senate in 2002 and was re-elected in 2006, during which he served as chairman of the Transportation, Highways, and Military Affairs Committee, as well as the Mineral Business and Economic Development committees. Although the senator was sworn in as a temporary filler for the empty senate seat, voters will decide in a special election in 2008 whether he finishes Thomas’ four-year term.

Jean Tucker, who lives on the Hoback rim and attended the town meeting, said after the, meeting that she wasn’t sure if she was impressed by his presentation.

“Like he said, he’s only been here 21 days, but I can see he’s been working very hard in those 21 days,” Tucker said. “He seems friendly and nice, and I hope he helps us out.”

Maria Wise, a Daniel resident who asked the senator to ‘just say no’ to lobbyists pushing for more development around the Upper Green River Valley and the Bridger-Teton National Forest, said she wasn’t satisfied with his answers to development concerns. “He really would not commit to following up on what Senator Thomas had already started, and while he’s ‘getting input,’ we’re losing the ability to stop the drilling,” Wise said. “I would’ve been happy if he’d said, ‘yes, I’ll do my best to stop drilling in those sensitive areas.’”

Barrasso said he already knows that a senator can’t please everyone. “After these town meetings, I’ve learned that people in Wyoming are highly opinionated, fiercely independent, and all very willing to voice their objections,” he said with a laugh.

“Being a congressman is exciting, but very humbling, to know you have to be responsible for all the people in Wyoming.”

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