Energy policy; Take it from Wyoming
So here we are, with a state economy still overly-reliant on the extraction of fossil fuels — more than 60 percent of state revenue, according to Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead. And it appears that anything less than full-throttle coal, natural gas and oil development results in a budget-busting panic, as evidenced in the recent exercise to trim 8 percent from the state budget.
Now Gov. Mead insists the rest of the nation ought to take its energy policy from Wyoming’s and the Republican Governors Association’s playbook.
In an op-ed, Mead and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell wrote, “To fill the void in leadership from the president, Republican governors have developed ‘An Energy Blueprint for America’ that gives a true assessment of the energy challenges and opportunities facing our nation and, more importantly, offers solutions for reaching our energy potential. The plan recognizes the need for a state-centric approach that utilizes every means of energy production.”
In August, Gov. Mead told the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, “This administration has failed for four years to enact a sound energy policy.” And when it comes to balancing energy development with the environment; “We have to move away from this assumption, this arrogance, that if it comes from the federal government it’s better.”
“I would submit to you the state rule,” Mead added, “almost always is a better rule.”
More domestic energy development can lessen our reliance on foreign sources, and that’s a good policy goal. But there’s a huge fallacy in the GOP’s narrative that North America can and should be energy independent. Unlike solar and wind, fossil fuel commodities rise and fall on international markets, and even the red-white-and-blue oil and gas drillers, with their drill-bits in American soil, are eagerly eyeing those international markets.
There’s also the fallacy that America can open up its public lands to full-throttle energy development without sacrificing human health, the environment and multiple use. Whether it’s deer populations in the Pinedale Anticline, sage grouse in the Powder River Basin, or ozone in the Upper Green River Basin, the latest scientific evidence tells us there is a net degradation of the environment related to energy development.
Yet, Wyoming’s elected leaders insist that “advancing technologies” will actually allow energy development to improve the environment. It’s true; read what Rep. Cynthia Lummis said last year. Their argument is akin to saying that slowing the flow of pee into the swimming pool somehow reduces the volume of pee in the pool.
In reality, the question we must wrestle with is how much environmental degradation are we willing to accept on our public lands and in the air we breath? It appears that Wyoming’s elected leaders do not want to have that conversation. Instead, Gov. Mead and his fellow Republican governors put out a “state-centric” energy policy for the entire nation — a hubristic approach to energy policy for a nation that the world looks to for leadership.
Mead isn’t the only one to insist Wyoming knows best on energy policy for our neighbors. Wyoming’s congressional delegation, and at least one Wyoming newspaper editorial board, have made impassioned protests against a number of federal and congressional measures that attempt to take into account the pollution from coal and other fossil fuels that take place both outside and — gasp! — inside Wyoming’s borders.
For example, how dare environmentalists, community leaders and elected officials in the Pacific Northwest meddle with Wyoming’s hand-in-hand alliance with Peabody Energy, Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources to ship Cowboy coal to China!? Earlier this month, Wyoming congressional Sens. Barrasso and Enzi co-signed a letter to Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar seeking to block an expanded environmental review of new facilities to export Powder River Basin coal.
They asked, why should Asian-bound American coal undergo a “climate change litmus test” when nothing similar is required of Caterpillar dozers or Boeing planes? A better question, I believe, is why should Pacific Northwest citizens be denied the public process provided under the National Environmental Policy Act, which allows public participation to consider the site-specific — as well as the cumulative — impacts of dust, spills, transport emissions and other aspects of large-scale PRB coal exports never envisioned under current planning documents?
These issues are much larger than Wyoming’s own interests. A lot of people are concerned, and ought to be, and anyone purporting to institute a “national energy policy” should take them into account. There is the international community, for instance, which has begged the U.S. to resume leadership on climate change.
“We can’t address climate change without the U.S. … They’re making us abandon principles we don’t want to abandon,” Lili Fuhr, head of international climate policy department for the Heinrich Boll Stiftung, told WyoFile in 2010.
If you’re disappointed that President Obama failed to enact a comprehensive national energy policy in 3.5 years, just consider what’s happened in Wyoming over the past 40 years. Wyoming has failed, for four decades, to diversify its economy to sustain itself beyond a full-throttle dig-drill-and-burn fossil fuel economy (granted, that’s not an easy task). And the whim of national and international markets jolts Wyoming lawmakers into spotlighting state wages, pensions and social safety-net services.
It’s one heck of a way to run a rodeo.
Remember the $400,000 in Wyoming taxpayer dollars we spent on the Western States Energy and Environment Symposium in 2009? It was the brainchild of then House Speaker Colin Simpson (R-Cody) and Rep. Tom Lubnau (R-Gillette), and out of that effort we got the Energy Producing States Coalition — a boondoggle born from the inability to understand that Americans don’t like to be pushed around by some OPEC-styled self-interest group.
Wyoming and our fellow western states have much to offer the nation in terms of a wide energy portfolio and sound know-how in resource management. Unfortunately, a lot of serious folks are being drowned out by a political chatter that insists the rest of the world must endure the dust, the toxins and the effects of climate-warming greenhouse gases from Wyoming coal, oil and natural gas simply because, hey, it’s the backbone of Wyoming’s revenue and we don’t have an economic Plan B.
— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. Reach him at 307-577-6069 or [email protected]. Follow Dustin on Twitter @DBleizeffer.
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