Utilities have added pollution controls to coal-fired power plants, including the Dave Johnston power plant near Glenrock. However, those upgrades do little to address carbon emission reduction goals as laid out in EPA’s Clean Power Plan. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

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.”

Bob LeResche

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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3 Comments

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  1. Thank you for this well written and thoughtful article, Mr. LeResche. This is a conversation we need to have if the energy industry, especially the coal segment, is to survive in Wyoming.
    Nancy Sorenson
    Arvada, WY

  2. The EPA and you’re “modest” goals are anything but. To meet the “modest” increase in carbon efficiency for our state would simply mean shutting down coal power plants. Thus the loss of billions in revenue. So the brand new schools, nice roads and infrastructure that everyone seems to believe magically appear, will no longer be. The low low taxes that Wyoming residents pay will begin to rise because the revenue will simply not be there to support everyone like it has for years and years.

    What is there for the State and the Governor to address? That yes, the EPA and the Federal Government want to shut down coal fired power plants? Should we be like Montana and settle for their plan of 5 different ways that reduces state revenue, reduces the money we get to put towards education, reduces the money towards municipal, county and state roads and infrastructure, reduces the amount of money your local government receives, reduces the amount of money pumped back into local economies to help promote more business not only locally but for the state as well? I truly am having a hard time understanding why you want that. You’re article speaks around the truth, the truth being the shutting down of power plants. If that is what you are aiming at, then fine I have no problem with you saying that, but at least say that is what you want (shutting down coal plants) and say what it means for the residents of Wyoming. Or maybe you don’t know the facts and this is an easy outlet for you to write an article and be a bit “edgy” on the topic of carbon emissions in a coal producing state.

    Lets run through the suggested measures to achieve the again, “modest” goal 1) improving efficiency, Wyoming already has some of the most efficient coal power plants 2) using existing gas-fired power plants more, so you’re saying use our 8 small mainly internal plants and ONE large commercial gas fired power plant more than we already are? Oh and don’t forget the increase in your electrical bill because of the the cost of that ONE natural gas plant. 3) expanding low-emission generation, this pertains to the amount the state uses, which is only about 20% of the total renewable energy generated by the state, so even though we produce a ridiculous amount of renewable energy, its contracted out to other states and we don’t need it because we produce cheap energy through our efficient coal power plants. 4) increase energy efficiencies, I’m pretty sure that Wyoming is quite efficient in their homes as the weather is usually favorable for the efficiences. Also, we have less than 600,000 people living in the state so even if we were not efficient with our homes and businesses the simple math of an incredibly small amount of people lends it to be very minimal in effecting the “modest”, mere 19% increase in carbon efficiency.
    Please watch the video below as Al Miner, the chairman of the Wyoming Public Service Commission, describes this in great detail and does a really good job of stating the facts and realities that the state is looking at because of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

    http://wyocast.uwyo.edu/WyoCast/Play/2e2327413b084b88b8568fdcf94022901d?catalog=b3edf27d-f1a3-4752-b149-e95d7c7dd956

    Dylan Esquivel
    Upton, WY

  3. Couldn’t agree more. State administrators long have criticized conservationists and environmental groups for being overly litigious. When confronted by change our Wyoming leaders unfortunately look to fight first by filing lawsuits, rather than looking for more positive methods to meet those concerns.

    Great column, Mr. LeResche. In Wyoming, we tend to ignore what’s happening elsewhere, even if it’s just to see what our neighbors to the north are up to.
    Dan Neal
    Casper, WY