Earlier this month, Wyoming legislators introduced a bill that would effectively outlaw clean energy by preventing state utilities from selling it. The proposed bill applies to all power generated by large-scale solar or wind projects. If passed, violating utilities would be fined $10 per megawatt hour.
The bill has nine sponsors, two in the state senate and seven in the house, all of whom come from coal-producing counties. While the bill is considered unlikely to pass, despite large Republican majorities in both houses, its intent certainly flies in the face of global efforts to combat climate change.
While most states have renewable portfolio standards, Wyoming is one of the few that does not. And what this bill proposes “is essentially a reverse renewable energy standard,” says Shannon Anderson, director of the Powder River Basin Resource Council.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Scott Clem of Campbell County, has openly questioned the science behind human-caused climate change. He wrote on his website: “The fact of the matter is that man-made climate change is not settled science. Instead, it is hotly disputed by reputable and educated men and women … ”
That is simply not the case. Only a handful of people dispute the overwhelming scientific consensus, most of whom are on fossil fuel company payrolls.
That said, it is not unusual for representatives of state or federal governments to make proposals designed specifically to serve the interests of their constituents. And for many legislators, it makes sense to promote fossil fuels in Wyoming: The state is America’s No. 1 coal producer and is also home to vast oil and natural gas reserves.
But while this particular proposal could at best delay layoffs for some Wyoming workers, it threatens to stamp out the clean-energy innovation that could free those workers from relying on a single industry for their livelihoods. The transition to a low-carbon economy seems more inevitable each year, and refusing to jump on board with clean power may mean Wyoming workers are left behind.
“Despite the new president’s campaign promises and whatever actions he might take to ease regulations, coal jobs aren’t coming back,” says James Van Nostrand, director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at West Virginia University College of Law.
Even the CEO of the nation’s largest private coal company, Robert Murray of Murray Energy, told CNNMoney that coal employment “can’t be brought back to where it was before the election of Barack Obama.”
That’s because competition from natural gas — far more than from renewables — is shutting coal mines down. If Mr. Clem and his companions really wanted to help the miners in Wyoming, they should have outlawed natural gas-fired power plants, too.
Dave Eskelsen, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, one of the utilities that would be impacted by the law if it were to pass, said wind and natural gas are the cheapest energy sources for the company, more so than coal.
That undermines what Rep. David Miller from Fremont County, another of the bill’s sponsors, claimed when he said: “Wyoming is a great wind state, and we produce a lot of wind energy. We also produce a lot of conventional energy, many times our needs. The electricity generated by coal is amongst the least expensive in the country. We want Wyoming residences to benefit from this inexpensive electrical generation.”
Meanwhile, coal miners across the country are fearful of losing black lung disease benefits that were included with the Affordable Care Act that President Donald Trump says he intends to repeal.
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