As the 2024 legislative session in Wyoming approaches, the state’s mining industries may be on the brink of a significant confrontation over property rights. Cheyenne Republican Representative Ben Hornok has proposed a bill that could grant surface rights owners the authority to stop mineral extraction on their land for any reason, with the exception of trona and coal mining, which would be exempt.
The proposed legislation has the potential to challenge longstanding federal mining laws in Wyoming, which have been in place for over a century. Representative Hornok revealed that he crafted the proposal in response to concerns raised by a rancher in his Cheyenne district shortly after being elected in November 2022.
The rancher complained that a mining operator had neglected to restore his grazing land to its original condition after abandoning the mining operation. According to Hornok, the rancher discovered that the land had been graded by the mining activity, rendering it unsuitable for cattle grazing.
While Hornok refrained from disclosing the identities of the rancher and mining operator involved in the incident in Laramie County, he emphasized that his intention is not to hinder the industry. Instead, he aims to make it simpler for surface rights owners to approve or reject reclamation plans.
Under the current system, Hornok argued that mining companies introduce “minor changes” to reclamation plans incrementally, without notifying the state’s Department of Environmental Quality of potential significant alterations.
As the legislative session commences on February 12, the proposed bill is likely to spark debates and discussions about the balance between property rights and mining interests in Wyoming. The exemption of trona and coal mining from the bill adds a layer of complexity to the potential changes, and stakeholders will closely watch the outcome of this legislative effort.