Wyoming’s governor, Matt Mead, presides over a state that ranks #1 in coal production, #5 in natural gas production, and #8 in crude oil production, so it’s not surprising he’s a fossil fuel booster.
But Mead goes beyond the rah-rah and into the realm of the crazy. At a recent panel discussion in Jackson, the governor disparaged renewable energy, and proudly proclaimed himself a skeptic on climate change. Despite the fact that Wyoming has the 8th best potential for wind energy — enough to provide 113 times the amount of electricity the state’s residents consume — Mead said “renewables aren’t going to get you there.” Then he joked about flying to Jackson through a snowstorm to preface his views on climate change.
But it’s not just Mead. The state’s leading daily newspaper, the Casper Star-Tribune, went totally off the rails Tuesday in an editorial that for the most part was a fairly reasoned response to a recent scathing Government Accountability Office investigation into the federal coal sale program. “The report sounded some serious alarms about how the federal government sells coal tracts to private companies to mine coal for sale,” the paper said. Those federal coal sales are mostly in the Powder River Basin region of Wyoming and Montana, and Big Coal is looking to use those sales to boost exports to Asia as domestic electric utilities increasingly abandon coal.
But then, in the last paragraph, the paper said that “Wyoming coal is inexpensive to mine, mined safely and is relatively good for the environment. We should be proud to sell it elsewhere. Let’s make sure taxpayers are getting their fair share, and keep the coal trains rolling.” Good for the environment relative to what? Chernobyl?
Coal boosters in Wyoming, including the Star Tribune, conveniently overlook the impact of burning coal on climate change. To them it’s all about jobs, payrolls and royalties to the state treasury. But as a recent op-ed in the New York Times noted, “The billions of tons of coal burned in Asia every year contribute markedly to global warming. Should the United States be selling them subsidized coal and encouraging this impending disaster?”
The answer obviously is no, and the Obama administration should learn that answer, too. Since taking office the administration has sold leases to more than 2 billion tons of federally-owned coal in the Powder River Basin. Lease sales of about 4 billion more tons are in the pipeline. And the federal Bureau of Land Management is moving forward on long-term management plans for its lands in the Powder River Basin that would clear the way for more than another 10 billion tons of coal to be sold.
As it makes admirable progress on cutting carbon pollution from vehicles, the Obama administration needs to start planning for leaving some of that publicly-owned coal in the ground.