CASPER - State lawmakers are meeting this week to consider bills that would cut taxes on coal production to give Wyoming's coal industry incentives to create clean-coal projects.
The Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee planned to meet Wednesday and today in Casper to consider the proposals.
Coal industry officials say tax breaks could help spur the development of technologies to capture gases produced by burning coal. Scientists say that those gases are major contributors to global warming.
Coal industry lobbyists prepared three draft bills at the committee's request. One would cut sales and use taxes, another would cut ad valorem taxes, and the third would cut severance taxes.
"These plants are going to need some significant incentives from the government, and tax policy is one way in this state to grant those incentives. It's the same way the federal government subsidizes solar and wind - that's what these bills are about," said lawyer Larry Wolfe, author of the bills.
The Equality State Policy Center, a watchdog group, maintains that Wyoming's coal industry should continue to pay taxes to support state government and other services.
Center Chairman Bob Spencer said in a written statement that every tax exemption either means program cuts for the state or a shift of the tax burden to someone else.
Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Lockhart, R-Casper, said the draft bills are merely proposals. He said it wasn't clear what the committee would decide to do with them.
"We asked them to give us all of their thoughts on it, and they did. What the committee will do with it, I'm very uncertain," said Lockhart, who serves on the board of Arch Coal Inc., a major coal producer in the state.
Lockhart said Wyoming must remain competitive with Eastern coal states that are offering financial incentives to potential clean-coal developers.
"When you're competing with them for people to make these large investments, they are asking, 'How does the state support it?' " Lockhart said.
Spencer said investing in research rather than granting tax breaks would give Wyoming's citizens more say in how their tax dollars are spent in preserving the state's coal industry.
Dan Neal, executive director of the Equality State Policy Center, said the state needs to continue receiving tax revenues from coal production.
"Without sales and use taxes, property taxes or severance taxes on clean coal, we will
miss the revenues needed
for dealing with continuing impacts and for saving in the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund," Neal said.