CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Gov. Matt Mead pledged to keep fighting "with bulldog determination" for the future of Wyoming coal as a top priority as he delivered his state of the state address on Wednesday.
Mead, a Republican sworn in last week to his second consecutive term, told legislators he has never seen an onslaught against a single industry like what he described as the Barack Obama administration's anti-coal agenda. Wyoming is the nation's largest coal-producing state, but demand for coal has sagged in recent years in the face of stricter federal power plant pollution regulations and cheaper natural gas.
Mead said he will keep pressing for access to Pacific coast ports so Wyoming can export its coal overseas. Both Wyoming and Montana are appealing a recent rejection by the state of Oregon of an energy company's proposal to build a coal terminal on the Columbia River.
On another critical issue, Mead said he's ready to stop fighting the federal government and seek the best deal he can get to expand the Medicaid program.
Expanding Medicaid is a cornerstone of the federal Affordable Care Act. But Mead opposed it in Wyoming, even though it would offer insurance to some 17,000 low-income adults, insisting he didn't trust federal promises to pay for most of the expansion in future years. Wyoming's legislature repeatedly has rejected expansion.
But Mead told lawmakers Wednesday that the state is losing money to other states by rejecting the program while sticking hospitals with the cost of uncompensated care. He said it's time for Wyoming to act.
In his address, Mead also:
—Asked lawmakers to approve more than $150 million in additional spending for highway improvements, local government funding and projects at the University of Wyoming.
—Called for the legislature to develop a clear policy for managing Wyoming's so-called rainy day fund, which has roughly $2 billion. Many lawmakers are concerned about the future of state revenues given recent declines in oil prices.
—Said his administration is crafting a water policy to be released soon. Water is Wyoming's most important resource, the governor said, and the state needs to protect its supplies from downstream demands.
Mead said the plan will call for building 10 small reservoirs over the next 10 years as well as other projects. His supplemental budget request to lawmakers for this legislative session seeks $18.6 million to fund water projects.