WyoFile Energy Report

Gubernatorial candidate Pete Gosar talks energy policy

— July 8, 2014

Wyoming’s policy and politics regarding energy doesn’t tend to change much between Democratic and Republican governors. The economy is heavily reliant on the extraction of minerals, and any candidate for state office must be a champion of robust mining, drilling and all forms of energy development. That description applies to Pete Gosar, the Democratic candidate for governor who proudly reminds people he’s the son of an oilfield worker.

Pete Gosar (courtesy photo — click to enlarge)
Pete Gosar (courtesy photo — click to enlarge)

Gosar, 46, is making his second bid for the governor’s seat, this time facing the strong headwinds of an incumbent Republican governor who has worked hard to build a reputation as a defiant defender of coal and all things carbon. Gov. Matt Mead also insists that nobody does it better — least of all the federal government — when it comes to writing and implementing the highest of industry standards and balancing energy development with conservation of the state’s other natural resources.

Mead said recently, “Our first pursuit is we are not going to give up the battle on coal. … I am steadfast on that. My plan A, B, and C, is to fight for coal.”

Mead’s challengers in the GOP primary — Taylor Haynes and Cindy Hill — may differ with the incumbent on energy policy primarily in the intensity that they promise to bring in their fight against federal regulation. Haynes speaks of banishing EPA from Wyoming, for example.

Gosar said it’s time for Wyoming to have a more honest discussion about its energy future. “For me, from what I read and from what I understand, there’s an idea that if only the EPA left Wyoming alone, that that would be enough. And I don’t think that’s true,” said Gosar.

Gosar sat down with WyoFile on Monday and talked about his vision for Wyoming energy policy — a vision that is informed in part by Gosar’s experiences growing up in Pinedale and then witnessing the shale gas boom in the Pinedale Anticline and Jonah fields; and informed by his experience as a member of the state board of education, which was recently thrown into the political arena after the legislature and Gov. Mead passed a law prohibiting the department from considering Next Generation Science Standards that acknowledge man’s role in climate change. 

WyoFile: What’s the difference between a Gov. Pete Gosar energy policy and what Wyoming has had over the past several years?

Pete Gosar: Primarily it’s a recognition of the future and how to address it. I believe we have the ability in Wyoming to create our own future with our traditional resources, and then diversify into sources that not a lot of people talk about in Wyoming today. … Energy efficiency — I think that’s good money spent, and the returns on investment are remarkable. Those are things that need to be talked about in a realistic, honest fashion. … I agree that the current administration says that the markets are asking for a different set of requirements for our traditional energy sources. I don’t believe they have a plan to address those markets. But I believe they’re correct in how they evaluate the situation.

WyoFile: The state’s coal mining industry is under tremendous market and regulatory pressures. What do you believe is the appropriate response from the governor’s office going forward?

Gosar: Certainly we need to reduce the emissions. I think coal has a bright future. Nobody wants to see a coal miner lose a job. But you have to evaluate the world you’re in and adapt. And I think Wyoming can adapt. … It’s not a successful strategy to sue your way to success. And so, can you innovate?

WyoFile: Is it time to start planning for a Wyoming coal industry that will be in decline for the next several years?

Gosar: Well, I think you always have to plan. I think you see those places in America — that had everything going for them — that didn’t plan; the Flint, Michigans. And you have to continue to adapt. And for me that’s the key to successful organizations and a successful state and successful businesses, is to continue to re-invent yourself and find a way to make your product always something that people need. … I’m not so certain we should pick winners and losers. We should say, well, we’re going to produce as many electrons as we can, whatever way we can do it, and we’ll let the markets decide and we’ll let our capitalistic system decide.

WyoFile: Do you support using taxpayer dollars to promote coal ports and exporting Wyoming coal overseas?

Gosar: If it makes sense. I like to believe that you have to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars, and I also believe that the organizations that would benefit from that need to help invest. There needs to be a partnership on that. So I think that you can take some calculated risks. But I think some of the places that have decided that they don’t want coal there — to continue to try to force that on people — we’d have the same reaction if people tried to force something on us in Wyoming.

WyoFile: Do you support the continued use of taxpayer dollars help leverage R&D efforts at the University of Wyoming and beyond to advance coal technologies?

Gosar: Sure. You bet. I would extend that (to other energy sources). I think that much can be done with the natural gas industry, I think with the oil industry, I think some of the renewables. … This might be a bit off topic, but I think about the lithium field in Sweetwater County, and the soda ash that’s required to refine it being nearby. … I know carbon sequestration is expensive. But maybe if we were producing lithium at the same time you have a path for your traditional energy sources, and then you bridge to something that is certainly going to be a part of the future.

WyoFile: How do you view Wyoming’s recent track record in balancing energy development with conservation of the state’s other natural resources?

Gosar: I think that as a kid who grew up in Pinedale and after having seen what happened to the air and the water and the wildlife populations, we could have done that better. … It’s hard to see that it takes something like that to change how we view energy extraction. But I think we’re starting to see Wyoming do things that balance those things well in Sublette County — the best practices with the DEQ, and some of the cutting-edge developmental stuff that is happening in western Wyoming. The problem that I see is those aren’t extended to Converse County, those are not extended to Laramie County, where the boom is starting to hit. … I don’t think we should have to replay the same scenario time and time again when we know there’s a better way forward.

WyoFile: Final thoughts on energy policy under a Gosar administration?

Gosar: I’m not cynical about the capacity of Wyoming to handle tough issues. … There’s not too many people in Wyoming who don’t understand boom and bust, and I don’t think many of them really feel that that’s a system we should continue much longer. And it is hard. … We have an opportunity to innovate and adapt. And those windows don’t remain open forever. We can choose — and we will choose this election, if you ask me — which way we’re going to go. I think there’s plenty of historical evidence that those cultures or those companies or those organizations that refused to innovate, refused to adapt, it didn’t turn out so good for them, and we need to have that discussion.

— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. He has covered energy and natural resource issues in Wyoming for 15 years. You can reach him at (307) 267-3327 or email dustin@wyofile.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter at @DBleizeffer

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Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. Well done. It is unfortunate the democrat/republican divide is so wide in this country – everything has to be political. A common sense approach to energy development in the long-term would benefit both sides of the climate change argument. Mr. Gosar has a long road ahead of him, but it sure would be nice to have somebody leading the state that can be progressive and build consensus, not just throw the liberal/conservative label around.

    I also appreciate the direction of the article – I disagree with Mead’s approach in the climate change debate – the article/interview is focused on what Mr. Gosar thinks about Wyoming’s energy future and it is refreshing to have the media stick to the issue, not democrat vs republican – liberal fringe vs conservative fringe. Well done.