A Republican state convention attendee visits with U.S. House candidate Charlie Tyrrel. House candidate Darek Farmer (R-Guernsey) says discussion of energy policies in the race need to be better grounded in reality. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Republican U.S. House candidate Darek Farmer says the discussion of energy policy in Wyoming’s crowded race lacks reality. Claiming that President Obama is waging a war on coal, and that rolling back onerous regulations will help Wyoming’s coal industry is disingenuous, he said.

“People think as long as we get rid of Obama, coal is going to be back in the saddle — and it’s not going to happen,” Farmer said. “When we politicize something like we do with coal, we’re missing the root problem.”

Farmer, 32, of Guernsey, said Wyoming risks losing out on opportunities in the fast-evolving world of energy by sticking to a dogma that blames politics for everything that challenges fossil fuels. Abundant and cheap natural gas is the biggest force against Wyoming’s coal industry, he said, and even if Congress were to roll back federal regulations on coal there are still 36 states across the nation that have taken on some form of renewable portfolio standard to lower carbon emissions.

Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and JPMorgan have pledged not to finance new coal mines or coal-fired power plants around the world, and they’re not doing it to convince Congress to change course on regulations.

“It doesn’t matter,” Farmer told WyoFile in a phone interview. “We’re going to see a decrease in coal steadily forever. I don’t see an end to it.”

Farmer said he takes issue with Republican U.S. House candidate Liz Cheney’s comment that federal regulations on coal are based on “junk science.”

“I think there’s really good science out there,” Farmer said. “We need to embrace the Clean Power Plan.”

Wyoming should encourage renewable energy development, including wind and solar, and try to lure those manufacturers into the state with its business-friendly tax environment, he said. “Liz Cheney’s plan is basically going to stop everything. I just don’t see that as a plausible way to move forward.”

Wyoming GOP U.S. House of Representative candidate Liz Cheney and her husband Philip Perry visited with Wyoming GOP state convention attendees Friday in Casper. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

In a recent interview with WyoFile, Cheney — the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney — acknowledged that market conditions play a major role in Wyoming’s declining coal industry. “But what you have simultaneously is exacerbation of those conditions by this president and government policies coming out of Washington, so when you’ve got EPA that puts into place the Clean Power Plan and says ‘Our goal is to kill coal,’ that’s more than market conditions.”

Cheney said that Congress ought to enact a prohibition against EPA regulating carbon dioxide — one of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Congress should not consider a carbon tax, either, she said.

“There has been a war on coal,” Cheney said. “Sadly, you are now seeing the heartbreaking effects of it. It can be changed.”

Wyoming’s energy downturn

Wyoming has lost more than 7,000 jobs in the past year-and-a-half as prices for oil, natural gas and coal have sunk in flush commodity markets. Adding pressure to Wyoming’s coal mining industry — which relies on the U.S. utility market — was the warmest winter on record in the lower 48 states in 121 years.

Twelve candidates are vying to fill Wyoming’s single U.S. House of Representative’s seat, which has been held by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R) since 2009. She announced last year she would not seek re-election.

Candidates seeking to replace her largely agree on what Lummis described as an “all of the above” approach to energy policy and clearing federal regulations from the path of fuel sources.

“Fossil fuels like coal and oil must continue to be a fundamental and vital part of our nation’s energy portfolio,” Republican candidate Leland Christensen of Alta states on his website. “With our vast reserves, we need to be focused on ways to utilize our energy sources more cleanly and more efficiently, instead of regulating it out of existence.”

Candidate Charlie Tyrrel of Casper, a former Powder River Basin coal miner, said there’s not much the government can do regarding current coal market conditions. But, he said, “There’s another way around it. India could use our coal.

“Washington and Oregon don’t want a port?” Tyrrel continued. “Well, let’s trade with Canada. Canada builds a port, we build a pipeline, and it’s a win-win.”

U.S. House candidates are scheduled to debate in August in Casper.

CORRECTION: This story was updated to correct the spelling of Darek Farmer. — Ed

Dustin Bleizeffer

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 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. How refreshing to see a Republican addressing the reality of our ecological and economic situation. That’s the Wyoming I was raised in.