Kicking and screaming toward climate regulation

State lawmakers held a special hearing Saturday (and held their noses) as Wyoming is steadily dragged, kicking and screaming, toward regulating greenhouse gases.

Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile editor-in-chief

“There are a lot of us who maybe don’t want to regulate (greenhouse gases) because we don’t believe it’s an issue. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about,” Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development interim committee co-chairman Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, said in opening the hearing.

Lawmakers had to rush to draft legislation to allow the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to begin forming a program to regulate industrial greenhouse gases, which the world’s top scientists believe are a major contributor to global warming. Their urgency is to avoid relinquishing primacy of pending new federal air quality regulation to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Ever since the Bush-era Supreme Court ruling determining that greenhouse gases are a pollutant, EPA has worked against political headwinds to prepare to regulate greenhouse gas sources ranging from agricultural activities to tailpipe emissions and major industrial sources such as coal-fired power plants. Content with Wyoming’s long heritage (albeit boom-and-bust) as a fossil fuel exporter, state leaders have vehemently defied calls for greenhouse gas regulations, fearing such policies would hobble the state’s coal mining industry.

For decades, Wyoming has been the nation’s largest supplier of coal. In 1999, in direct response to President Bill Clinton’s signing of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, Wyoming lawmakers passed their own Kyoto bill strictly prohibiting the regulation of greenhouse gases in the Cowboy State.

That law will stay on the books, for now. And Wyoming will continue to fight — among several other state petitioners — against the federal government over EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases. But, Saturday’s meeting was an admission of the practical need to get the state’s house in order in case the march toward greenhouse gas regulation cannot be stopped. Late last year it became apparent that Wyoming’s anti-Kyoto law would force industries emitting more than 75,000 tons of CO2 per year to obtain permits from both Wyoming DEQ and the EPA Region 8 office in Denver.

“What we didn’t know at the time is there is some hassle with that. … The hassle alone is not trivial,” Rob Hurless, energy policy advisor to Gov. Matt Mead, told the committee on Saturday.

Rocky Mountain Power has added pollution controls to its Dave Johnston coal-fired power plant near Glenrock in recent years, but it remains a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in Wyoming. The power plant has been in operation for more than 42 years. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile - click to enlarge)

In the face of “dual permitting” in Wyoming, companies might be tempted to locate their new major industrial facilities outside the state’s borders — a major threat for a state actively supporting advanced coal conversion projects such as DKRW Advanced Fuel’s coal-to-gasoline project near Medicine Bow.

For the past couple of months, the state worked closely with representatives from the coal sector and oil and gas sector — two industries that have differing interests in greenhouse gas regulations — to come up with a strategy: allow DEQ to draft a greenhouse gas regulation program so that the job remains with the state and not with EPA. Supporters also said DEQ should not be allowed to implement its greenhouse gas regulation program unless directed to do so by the federal courts or the Wyoming legislature.

“We’d much rather have the state regulating greenhouse gases if they’re going to be regulated,” said Hurless.

One major advantage of state-level regulation of greenhouse gases — as lawmakers and industry officials see it — is that an appeal of a DEQ-issued emissions permit doesn’t automatically place a stay on construction. A similar appeal under the EPA-administered program, could result in a stay on construction.

Basin Electric Power Cooperative enjoyed that state-level advantage when it built the new Dry Fork Station coal-fired power plant just north of Gillette. The company received an emissions permit from Wyoming DEQ. Environmental groups challenged the project based on, among other things, greenhouse gas emissions. But construction was allowed to continue during the legal process.

Those close to Wyoming’s effort to draft a greenhouse gas regulation plan noted that consensus is tentative among the ad hoc group of industry officials in Wyoming. For example, pressures for lower carbon emissions from major sources has contributed to a shift among electric utilities from coal to natural gas in recent years. Key to maintaining consensus support of Wyoming’s bill, according to those involved, is a stipulation that Wyoming DEQ may not implement greenhouse gas controls more stringent that the federal government requires.

Both lawmakers and industry officials continued seeking assurances that implementing a state-level greenhouse gas program would not stop the state from fighting EPA on greenhouse gas regulation in federal courts.

“If Wyoming — the largest coal-producing state in the nation — caves in to EPA, why should any other state continue the fight,” said Marion Loomis, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association. “The key to keeping everyone on-board is the no-more-stringent language.”

A handful of lobbyists from Wyoming-based environmental groups who participated in the Saturday hearing had few comments to add.

Shannon Anderson, organizer for the landowner advocacy group Powder River Basin Resource Council, told the commission, “We support state regulation of greenhouse gases, and if this bill is a vehicle to do that, we support that.”

— Contact Dustin Bleizeffer at 307-577-6069 or dustin@wyofile.com.

— If you enjoyed this column and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.

REPUBLISH THIS COLUMN: For details on how you can republish this column or other WyoFile content for free, click here.

Print Friendly

Published on February 14, 2012

{ 1 comment }

Inky February 16, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Poor Marion. Grim reality keeps intruding on his Cowboy State fantasy, that Wyoming can forever fend off scientific, economic, regulatory and moral pressure to do something about greenhouse gases.
Naomi Klein has a good post about conservative opposition to acknowledging climate change — it really does mean the end of capitalism, in order to save us all from an over-heated future, something that would mean the end of modern agriculture and massive disruptions.
Our grandchildren will curse this era for our lost chance to prevent climate change disasters.

Previous post:

Next post: