Wyoming’s energy policy should consider climate change

The cover page to Governor Matt Mead's Action Plan for energy production in Wyoming, which doesn't address climate change.

The cover page to Governor Matt Mead’s Action Plan for energy production in Wyoming. (Click to enlarge)

by Richard Garrett, Jr.
— June 25, 2013

Last month, following more than a year’s effort, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead released his energy strategy, for the state.

The plan outlines both general and specific energy policy objectives, with the stated goal of balancing economic growth and development with environmental protection.

Richard Garrett

Richard Garrett

One of the hallmarks of the governor’s plan is to establish a statewide requirement for baseline groundwater quality testing prior to new oil and gas drilling.

The strategy also calls for an examination of how the state regulates gas flaring at drill rigs, how it approaches reclamation and mitigation, and how it can remain economically competitive in the future.

Meanwhile — last week and across the Atlantic Ocean — the International Energy Agency published a broad and detailed report entitled “Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map.”

I thought it might be worthwhile to compare the two documents to see if there is a shared vision for the future of energy and energy policies as the world works to address global climate change.

As it turns out, Gov. Mead’s energy strategy and the International Energy Agency report are both relevant to each other. There are some encouraging ideas in common between the two documents, but there is also some real dissonance that deserves serious consideration.

Wyoming’s approach to energy policy has genuine implications for the IEA’s report. The United States is one of the world’s leading emitters of greenhouse gases and Wyoming produces about one-sixth of the total energy consumed in the nation.

The International Energy Report

The IEA report details four targeted policies that would cap the average increase in global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

This is a good news/bad news scenario. Since most estimates predict that if we don’t change our habits, the world’s average temperature will increase by 3.6 to 5.3 degrees Celsius within the next 100 years (with most of that increase happening in this century)—limiting the increase to 2 degrees has to be seen as something of an accomplishment.

On the other hand, it is not going to be easy to achieve this goal, and a 2-degree increase will still produce profound consequences for the world, especially and most painfully for its poorest countries and populations.

“Intensive action is required before 2020, the date by which a new international climate agreement is due to come into force,” the agency asserts in its report. “Energy is at the heart of this challenge: the energy sector accounts for around two-thirds of greenhouse-gas emissions, as more than 80 percent of global energy consumption is based on fossil fuels.”

Judi Greenwald, a contributor to the IEA’s policy recommendations and Vice President of Technology and Innovation at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, gives additional urgency to the challenge.

“Now that the world has unfortunately hit a global carbon dioxide concentration of 400 ppm, it is indeed late to begin the energy transition essential to climate protection,” Greenwald wrote in an email to the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “But IEA’s analysis indicates that it is not too late, if the world starts taking action now.” She recently expanded on this on her blog here.

The IEA recommends four policies to limit global warming to an average of 2 degrees Celsius:

  • Adopting specific energy efficiency measures (49 percent of the emissions savings).
  • Limiting the construction and use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants (21 percent).
  • Minimizing methane (CH4) emissions from upstream oil and gas production (18 percent).
  • Accelerating the (partial) phase-out of subsidies to fossil-fuel consumption (12 percent).

The Governor’s Energy Strategy

In his energy strategy, Governor Matt Mead identifies four themes that serve as the framework for initiatives that will “power and fuel the economic well-being of our state and supply energy to the nation while protecting our environment.”

Those themes are:

  • Economic competitiveness, expansion, and diversification.
  • Efficient, effective regulation.
  • Natural resource conservation, reclamation, and mitigation.
  • Education, innovation, and new technologies.

A dive deeper into the relevant initiatives reveals a bit more of the governor’s strategy:

  • Maintain and expand production.
  • Infrastructure (pipelines).
  • New industries (liquefied and compressed natural gas).
  • Conservation.
  • Energy Efficiency.
  • Innovation and new technologies.

The overlaps between the IEA’s recommendations and the governor’s energy strategy are encouraging.

Both identify energy efficiency as an important tool for their respective objectives. Wyoming’s governor also gives something of a nod to the value of minimizing CH4 emissions when in one of his initiatives he calls on industry to “produce annual inspection reports documenting…violations…and complaints.”

To his credit, too, the governor does not suggest that the state permit the construction of any new coal-fired power plants.

Less encouraging is that one initiative would address issues related to minerals and mineral-related taxation issues and identify “improvements…that benefit local government and companies.”

This initiative then would appear to be at odds with the IEA suggestion to partially phase-out subsidies to fossil fuel consumption.

The incongruity between the two documents is most apparent when it comes to production and consumption.

Gov. Mead’s energy strategy is built on the premise that our nation (and the world) will demand more production of fossil fuels and, hence, Wyoming should work to produce more of those fuels to help meet that growing demand. This premise seems to assume (and rely on) no reduction in domestic energy consumption as a result of new technologies and efficiency improvements.

Conversely, the IEA asserts that almost half of its targeted 2-degree limit is achievable—and feasible—through improved efficiency.

The IEA assertion echoes a McKinsey study from 2009 that also targeted the year 2020: Research shows “that the US economy has the potential to reduce annual non-transportation energy consumption by roughly 23 percent by 2020, eliminating more than $1.2 trillion in waste.” The report goes on to say that “the reduction in energy use would also result in the abatement of 1.1 gigatons of greenhouse-gas emissions annually—the equivalent of taking the entire U.S. fleet of passenger vehicles and light trucks off the roads.”

Using this information to make a good plan better

In the weeks and months to come, the governor’s energy strategy will almost certainly gain attention, and we hope momentum.

While it is clear that there are issues to resolve, Gov. Matt Mead deserves credit for his leadership and forward thinking at a critical juncture in Wyoming’s — and the world’s — history.

Within the framework of the governor’s energy strategy, we urge a clear-eyed vision that includes the shared goal of finding a solution to global climate change and that works to incorporate the IEA’s report policy recommendations.

We know that Wyoming plays a vital role in that solution. The time to act is now; we have less than seven years to make real progress on the most pressing environmental challenge of our generation. If we meet this challenge as a global community we have a chance of ensuring that the gift given us by our parents is one that we can give to our children and grandchildren.

Richard Garrett Jr. is legislative advocate for the Wyoming Outdoor Council.

Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact Guy Padgett at guy@wyofile.com or Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

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

If you enjoyed this story 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.

Print Friendly

Published on June 25, 2013

{ 1 comment }

gwarnock July 6, 2013 at 1:31 pm

“Gov. Mead’s energy strategy is built on the premise that our nation (and the world) will demand more production of fossil fuels and, hence, Wyoming should work to produce more of those fuels to help meet that growing demand.”

Our planet is dying right before our very eyes, but hey, It’s all about the money, eh Gov.?

Previous post:

Next post: