Enzi talks ag issues with the Roundup
Casper – Back in Wyoming for the Fourth of July holiday, U.S. Senator Mike Enzi visited the Wyoming Livestock Roundup to discuss his work as it relates to the state’s agricultural industry.
Solutions for the nation’s escalating health insurance costs are of primary concern for America’s small businessmen and women and agriculture is no exception. Enzi unveiled a 10-step approach to improving the nation’s healthcare situation about a year ago. He told the Roundup he’s broken the bill down into 10 separate parts to earn greater support when the legislation reaches the floor.
The 291-page bill, among other changes, would allow “cross-state” pooling where trade associations and others could work together to purchase group coverage. Another aspect of the legislation would improve the information infrastructure surrounding medical records. In announcing a tour to discuss the plan March 2008 Enzi said the health care crisis is particularly acute in Wyoming where, on average, one in five Wyoming residents is uninsured and more and more residents are losing what coverage they do have. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that 70 percent of Wyoming employers are small businesses, which find it nearly impossible to afford health care coverage for their employees.
On another issue important to Wyoming’s agricultural community, Enzi along with U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) has introduced legislation that would in part, allow deep sea exploration of America’s coast with the approval of the adjacent state’s governor and legislature. “I’m aware of one well 100 miles off coast and another 150 miles out that are already producing 400,000 barrels a day,” says Enzi of wells off the coast of Louisiana that aren’t visible from shore. “Our goal is to get an additional million barrels a day. You can see where five wells like that would go a long way toward bringing prices down.”
Expansion of the nation’s refining capacity is also integral says Enzi. That’s part of the reason he says he continues to push for construction of a coal to diesel, and jet fuel facility in southwest Wyoming. While it’s old technology, he says building the project will be both expensive and require the approval of several environmental permits. “If we get more diesel prices would come down,” he says, but notes the environmental processes and permitting could take years.
“We can do better,” says Enzi of America’s policies surrounding energy production. He says that few people realize the U.S. is the number three oil producing country in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Russia. Of the 20 million barrels of oil used each day in the U.S. he says 12 million is produced domestically.
“I’m counting on the young people of Wyoming to invent some things that will make our energy better, greener and more useful,” says Enzi. “I host an inventor’s conference every winter to encourage adults and kids to invent something that can be made in Wyoming and shipped around the world.” In junior high when Sputnik was launched, Enzi says after that, “We got busy inventing things and the next thing you know we put a man on the moon.”
An avid supporter of eliminating the death tax Enzi says Democrats are committed to keeping the tax in place. “They don’t understand the West when they’re doing that,” he says. “They need to talk to our farmers and ranchers and see what’s happened with our land values. Without land we don’t have farming or ranching and we also don’t have the protection of the open space they provide. The way land values are going I’m not sure how long people can afford to stay in agriculture if when one generation passes away they have to sell off half their land in order to pay the taxes. That’s where we’re headed if that estate tax doesn’t get extended.” Of its repeal he says, “It ought to be made permanent.”
“When I was at the Stock Growers meeting several people came up to me and shared the way their land values have escalated over the last 10 years,” says Enzi. “It was staggering, absolutely staggering.” The scenario, he says, has made the tax impossible to plan for, even for those who’ve been putting money away for that very purpose. “If you were planning on it at $80 an acre and now it’s $1,000 an acre you didn’t plan near well enough. We can only guess where those lands values are going to go.”
Enzi says he is among those concerned about JBS acquisitions that would result in greater concentration in the meatpacking sector. “Any merger in the meatpacker sector scares me,” says Enzi. “When it’s coming from outside the country, it scares me even more.” He says it’s one aspect of his broader concern about the increasing acquisition of U.S. companies by foreign entities.
“I continue to work with the livestock industry all the time to figure out how we can be sure to discover how the producer is getting his fair share,” says Enzi of his work on legislation such as a ban on packer ownership. “There’s indication the packers have been able to buy from themselves when the price is high and buy from everybody else when the price is low. That’s not fair. I want to find a way so we make sure the agricultural market still works so I keep talking to people to see if there’s a better way to do it.”
Enzi says he’s hopeful interstate meat shipment legislation included in the recent farm bill will also aid in the effort to reduce consolidation among the nation’s meatpackers. Historically, he says it has been easier for a Canadian processor to ship meat to the U.S. than it has been a Wyoming processor to ship meat outside the state’s borders.
Running for re-election, Enzi says the decision to seek what proves to be a 19 hours a day seven days a week job for another six-year commitment was a big decision. “We’re in D.C. four days a week and in Wyoming three days a week,” he says. “I seldom get to Gillette, which is home.” Enzi says the decision lies with what he believes to be a continued ability to make a difference and move Congress toward a more functional entity that’s beneficial to the U.S. public.
Given the Wyoming delegation’s team approach to its work in Washington, D.C., Enzi says he’s anxious to see who becomes the state’s next U.S. Representative. It’s an area where he says service in the Wyoming Legislature is a key qualifier. “It saves about two to four years of learning how to legislate,” he explains noting Wyoming’s long-held tradition of electing people with experience in the state legislature. As Wyoming’s senior senator and the team leader, he says cooperation between the three, while other delegations largely fail to get along, results in about “50 percent more fire power.”
Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.