(Casper Star Tribune, February 11) – Marion Loomis will retire from his position as executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association in April, leaving a void at the head of one of Wyoming’s most influential interest groups
Loomis’s stature in Cheyenne was evident in the manner his retirement was announced Monday: a mention in Gov. Matt Mead’s State of the State speech.
The mining association is expected to name a new executive director sometime in the spring.
As the head of an interest group whose members range from bentonite and trona companies to coal and uranium firms, Loomis made his name as an outspoken advocate for lower taxes on mineral production. In an interview, he listed a series of successful campaigns to beat back proposals to raise severance taxes on coal as one of the association’s greatest accomplishments during his tenure
“I would like to reduce them [further], but at least we’re not Montana,” he said.
The Big Sky State taxes production on coal at 30 percent. Wyoming surface mines, the vast majority of coal operations in the state, are taxed at 12 percent.
Loomis, 66, joined the Wyoming Mining Association in 1976, becoming executive director in 1991. He listed a desire to pursue other hobbies outside work as the primary reason for his retirement.
“There are a number of streams I’ve never fished,” Loomis said. “We have a cabin in the Bighorns. I get in there one day a year. I’d like to spend more time in the Bighorns.”
The praise from industry groups was effusive.
Gary Rivenes, executive vice president of Cloud Peak Energy and WMA president, said the longtime director played “an important part of mining’s growth in Wyoming.”
“It is people like Marion and his diligent efforts that have helped shape the entire sector, and because of his leadership, the Wyoming Mining Association remains strong,” Rivenes said in a statement.
Loomis had a unique ability to articulate a common voice for a diverse group of industries, said Wayne Heili, CEO of UR-Energy, a Casper uranium company, and a past WMA president. He remembered the formulation of the state’s core sage grouse strategy as an example.
The initial plan called on treating in-situ uranium mining and coal mining differently. Coal was
examined as one surface disturbance. Uranium was lumped in with oil and gas development, and a restriction allowing one well per 40 acres in areas of prime sage grouse habitat. But in-situ uranium mining is done in clusters, the wells used to leech the uranium from the ground drilled closely together.
Loomis stepped in and ultimately uranium developments were treated as one single disturbance area, Heili said.
“To promote coal effectively and uranium effectively takes a very balanced approach,” Heili said. “Marion has done a nice job of balancing that.”
The response of Loomis’s detractors was considerably more muted. Neither environmentalists nor Democrats returned phone calls seeking comment on his retirement.
Loomis’s longevity in his role at the head of the mining association is reflected by the changes in the industries he represents. The uranium industry was the dominant mining interest in Wyoming when he joined the association. It went bust and now looks poised for a rebound. Wyoming coal production went from 8 million tons in the 1970s to a high of 460 tons in 2008 before settling around 400 tons last year, he noted.
Coal faces significant challenges going forward, Loomis acknowledged. Regulators have set unrealistic standards for the industry, despite strides in reducing the amount of particulates, carbon dioxide and, more recently, mercury, he argued.
Such regulations have hindered a source of power that put electricity in nearly every home around the county, he said.
“Coal is an affordable, reliable source of energy,” Loomis said. “I’m proud of that. That’s what powered us to become the strong manufacturing, industrial power that we are.”
And perhaps that statement best captures the longtime mining association director: advocating for his industries until the end.