Guest column by Bob LeResche
— November 25, 2014
The apocryphal explanation for the rise of the Japanese auto industry — and the accompanying fall of Detroit — has it that when the U.S. government established fuel economy standards for motor vehicles in 1975, “Japan hired 1,000 engineers but Detroit hired 1,000 attorneys.”
Wyoming seems determined to play a starring role in an unfortunate repeat performance of Detroit’s big, bullheaded blunder.
In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published proposed standards to reduce carbon pollution nationwide. They call it the “Clean Power Plan,” and have constructed it, according to EPA, to provide “all the power we need, with less of what we don’t need: pollution.”
The Clean Power Plan is no list of federal dictates – no one-size-fits-all set of rules. Rather, it proposes goals for each state, outlines techniques states might choose to advance toward those goals, and asks each state to craft its own road forward.
Given Wyoming’s great reliance on coal, EPA suggests a very modest goal for our state: a mere 19 percent increase in carbon efficiency in the next 15 years, which is far less than the 30 percent average nationally.
Suggested measures to achieve this modest goal include 1) improving efficiency at coal-fired power plants, 2) using existing gas-fired power plants more, 3) expanding low-emission generation (eg: wind, solar, etc.) and 4) increasing energy efficiencies at points of use, such as homes and businesses.
EPA’s watchword in the proposal is “flexibility.” Wyoming may meet our goal however we want, using any mix of the four methods listed, or even through other means, such as increasing transmission efficiency, building new gas generation, energy storage, combined-cycle plants, expanded nuclear, market-based trading programs, or any other way.
By late October, Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) had published five potential scenarios and strategies by which its state can meet the EPA goals, maintain cheap domestic energy supplies, and keep the huge Colstrip coal-fired power plant operating. They have already held public meetings to discuss these scenarios in Colstrip, Billings and Missoula, and heard from more than 500 Montanans. MDEQ Director Tracy Stone-Manning told the Billings Gazette, “EPA provided us with a whole lot of flexibility,” and described how MDEQ had reached out to industry in preparing its strategies, and noted that, “a major effort to increase energy efficiency will create jobs.”
What has Wyoming done? Not so much. How have we responded? Like a pouty Luddite.
Gov. Matt Mead continually reaffirms his skepticism of climate science and has forbidden discussion of climate change in our schools by not vetoing a legislative ban on Next Generation Science Standards because they acknowledge the fact of global warming. Just sixteen days after EPA published its proposed CO2 reduction plan, a Mead press release led with, “Governor Mead has taken a strong stand against federal overreach including filing more than 30 lawsuits involving the federal government.”
Mead’s first reaction to EPA’s thoughtful, very flexible, state-centered proposal was nothing but negative. Before WDEQ had even had a chance to review the document, the Governor told it what to think. “Our first take was this doesn’t look good,” he said at a press conference June 18. “It looks to us like coal is being targeted, to the detriment of Wyoming. … We’re going to pinpoint as well as we can: We don’t like this, this, this and this.”
Change a few words, and you can hear the faint whines of 1975 Detroit.
With the governor setting such a negative tone, it is hard to imagine what Wyoming DEQ can do. It certainly has not produced five creative Wyoming-specific scenarios and heard from 500 citizens at public hearings, as has MDEQ. “We are still working on our responses at this time and have not released anything official yet,” emailed DEQ’s director earlier this month when asked what Wyoming DEQ thought of EPA’s proposal.
This month the United Nations published the most alarming study to date of global climate change, and the threat to our planet is a proven scientific fact. Now is the time to act. Citizens of Wyoming deserve a state government that will move us forward and help America lead rather than obstruct and hold us back.
If Montana can react positively and creatively, why can’t Wyoming? Why won’t Wyoming?
— Bob LeResche and his wife own a ranch and raise heirloom vegetables in the Powder River Basin. He serves on the Boards of Powder River Basin Resource Council and Western Organization of Resource Councils.
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