A voter trades a registration ticket for a ballot in Teton County on Nov. 3, 2020. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr/WyoFile)

President-Elect Joe Biden said throughout his campaign: “I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I’ll govern as an American.” 

As one of those Americans who care more about the country than any political party, I wish him success, and suggest we give him a way to demonstrate he’s serious about that claim.

Wyoming voted for Donald Trump by the largest margin of any state — with 70% of votes cast for the president, as opposed to 26.6% for Biden.  Furthermore, there is almost nothing more contrary to the Democratic Party’s policies than helping coal — and Wyoming is a coal state. 

Despite that, not every measure that helps coal communities creates greenhouse gases. Which means that if properly presented by our Washington delegation, we can offer President Biden policies that will give him an opportunity at his State of the Union address to demonstrate that he meant what he said, while not running afoul of his party’s platform.

Since winners and losers in the energy sector are largely determined by federal policy, the government has an obligation to protect communities that are impacted by changes in these policies. 

Federal subsidies for renewables allowed onshore wind and industrial solar to become profitable, while regulations and tax policies that promote fracking led to a further decline in thermal coal consumption. These shifts in policy have had a devastating impact on our coal communities. Washington owes us attention and our Republican Congressional delegation — which will include newly elected Sen. Cynthia Lummis along with Sen. John Barrasso and Rep. Liz Cheney — should request four things of the Biden Administration that aren’t at odds with his party’s positions.

First, gain Biden’s support to include amendments to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 in the next round of COVID relief legislation.  These amendments would include the nation’s coal communities as Opportunity Zones. This would provide significant tax benefits to companies interested in starting or relocating to coal communities.

Second, ask Biden to extend unemployment benefits to workers who lost their employment as a result of mine closures or reductions in coal production. This benefit should also include the professions that support the mines such as rail workers or vendors to the mining companies.

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Third, request federal protection for pension and other retirement obligations that have been lost or put at risk as a result of recent bankruptcies. If we can protect banks after the 2008 mortgage crisis, we can certainly find the will to prop up our mining communities.

Fourth, establish a special committee within the EPA to create a plan to expand exports of our high-quality coal to Asia. The committee’s charge would be to expand exports while reducing global greenhouse emissions. In my Senate campaign, I commissioned a study that demonstrated burning Wyoming coal instead of the common forms of Chinese and Indonesian coal reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

This is State of the Union Address stuff: A grand gesture by Biden to support coal communities in, of all places, the state that voted overwhelmingly for his opponent. 

All the while, he’d help working-class Americans, many of them union workers, and improve the environment. Everybody wins. But to do so, it will take bridge building and creativity on the part of our Washington delegation. 

We need to lay down our weapons and instead respectfully make the case to a Biden Administration that there is likely no better opportunity to prove his intention to “govern as an American,” than to take these four steps.

Dave Dodson

Dave Dodson lives in Wyoming and is a former CEO and professor at Stanford University. He was a Wyoming Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. Read more from his archive at davedodson.com/news.

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  1. “Since winners and losers in the energy sector are largely determined by federal policy, the government has an obligation to protect communities that are impacted by changes in these policies” – Not true.

    Gas is eating coal’s lunch and renewables promise to do the same to gas. Government is not responsible for coal’s decline its economics. Not even the Trump administration and congressional Republicans could stop the bleeding or stomach direct subsidies for coal companies much less their communities.

    I wish Wyoming success, and suggest that Wyoming wakes up, smells the coffee, and moves on to a new sustainable economy.

  2. One more thought: anyone such as Dodson who heartily advocates we do whatever we can to assure Wyoming coal is exported to Asia ( his point # 4 above ) is hopelessy out of touch and should surrender his credentials to opine on 21st century energy economics.

    Never mind that his suggestion of a ” special committee of the Environmental Protection Agency” can expedite the coal export supply chain is pure nonsense, unless you happen to think the Forest Service should also be in charge of permitting and expediting new nuclear power plants or six other incongruous things before breakfast…

    Dodson also seems to be completely unaware of the history of American coal mining. He would learn that at peak employment in the 1920’s over 800,000 coal miners were working, at a time when the nation had 1/3rd the population it does today. Which would be saying in 2020 if coal had maintained its eminence we would have 2,500,000 coal miners by comparison. Except we don’t . We barely have 40,000 miners these days . Why ? THE MARKET . The coal industry crashed twice in the mid 20th century, the last time being the late 1950’s when the railroads quit using stokers to push the locomotives and switched to diesel electric trains. That’s how it works, Dave… new industry subsumes the old and replaces it to get the same work done and the same product to market. . There is simply no domestic demand for the stuff these days, nor should there be now that we know coal burned above ground in quantity is toxically poisonous to the planet . Wyoming is part of the PROBLEM , not the solution to that predicament. You advocate more of the problem.

    Ignore this essay . It has nothing to stand on

  3. Our Congressional legislators could help grease the wheels of cooperation by publicly recognizing that President-elect Biden did win the election instead of cowering in fear of a Trump tweet.
    But alas, they won’t.

  4. Again the old saw that the Dems are responsible for all the ills that have beset the noble energy sector. Tell me, what tangible results have the Trump policies on the rebirth of the coal industry actually brought us? The reality is that the death of the extraction sector is being driven by the very industries that reaped the rewards of the cheap and abundant resources that lay just beneath the surface of the state. Our leaders grew fat and happy with the myopic view that it would never end.
    Well end it has and no amount of whining and crying is going to bring it back. Reminds me of the old bumper sticker’ Oh Lord give me one more boom; I promise not to piss it away like the last one’. The energy industry has moved on to cheaper and more palatable forms of generation. They may not be perfect but they are much more profitable. The fuel for solar and wind are free. The labor costs to run those facilities are around a tenth of the cost of thermal plants. Do the math. Fossil fuels are going the way of the horse and buggy. Who cried for them?
    The same folks clamoring for the government to step in to save their good paying jobs are the ones who are up in arms about the evils of socialism. Hard to take this argument seriously.

  5. Right you are Dave! And greg Hunter too! WYO needs an “All of the above ” energy policy. Honest , helpful leadership from our Congress persons is required. GO Cowboys!

  6. While I agree with helping the workers and protecting their pensions, I find it curious that an entrepreneur suggests that Washington “owes us” attention. Our Congressional delegation is going to have to make a huge change in position if we expect anyone there to listen to them. As long as they walk lock-step with Mitch McConnell and the RNC there is no reason to worry about holding their vote.

    I also wonder how effective federal help for opportunity zones would be when our own Legislature has refused to take any serious steps to diversify the state’s economy for decades. When we are not willing to help ourselves, why should we expect the feds to rush in and save us. We are in this position because our ultraconservative Republican Legislature chose to do nothing, perhaps if they start showing some responsible leadership our requests for assistance would be taken more seriously.

  7. If we want to prevent climate disaster, we will have to leave coal in the ground. I agree with all of Dave’s suggestions except facilitating coal export to Asia. Instead, let’s pass something like the RECLAIM Act, to create jobs cleaning up the mess that coal companies have abandoned. Then we can do whatever it takes to attract renewable energy and manufacturing jobs to coal communities. These communities have a lot to offer.

  8. It continues to be disappointing that Mr. Dodson embraces the fantasy that the collapse of the Wyoming coal industry is just a matter of federal energy policy – the happy myth that if we just elected the right folks, we could turn the clock back to the 1980s. Sure, federal tax and leasing policies can direct / distort markets, but they cannot roll back the tide or deny the onset of winter. The suggested assistance to smooth the transition to future economic realities is spot on. The premise that it’s big bad Washington politicians that done us wrong simply prolongs the pain.

  9. Dodson presumes that Biden cares anything about Wyoming, or even knows which rectangle on the state map it might be.

    I sincerely doubt Wyoming will get one gram or federal dime of support for its failing coal mines unless and until it tangibly adopts a more inclusive approach to alternative energy production. Example : Colorado added 35,000 wind and solar jobs while Wyoming was shedding a couple thousand coal jobs.

    Whaddyasay we quit kicking that dying black horse named King Coal with our steel toed cowboy boots , and embrace the 21st century ?

    1. if you’re waiting on the discovery of those watermarked ballots, you might be in for a long wait.

      you should unplug from social media. the information you consume is not correct.

    2. And that Orange Thing that refuses to leave OUR White House – he was never or ever will be mine … I know, it’s kinda like those sad old “Charlton Heston is My President” bumper stickers …

  10. Thanks Dave! I hope this dream comes true as we left the auto workers high and dry, which lead to the Bernie and Donald advocating for populism over the lost middle class.

    I can only hope the Liz and Cynthia will go for this instead of riling up the base with potential nightly appearances on Fox News during a Biden presidency.

    We have played politics for far to long and it is time for compromise and I am hoping that Biden can get Jay Inslee to drop the crap and let Wyoming’s less polluting black rocks be shipped overseas, allowing Wyoming’s lawmakers and people time to adjust to reality, instead of political theater where we all lose.

    1. How much more time do we need? We’ve been chasing that phantom for longer than the 22 years I have lived in Wyoming! And to expect Cynthia Lummis, Liz Cheney or John Barasso will ever eschew partisan Republican politics is a pipe dream.

      And Ms. Aguiar, not only is Joe Biden President-Elect, he will be President of MY COUNTRY on January 20th, 2020, at 12:01–to imagine otherwise is a delusion.