Wyoming faces an accelerating renewable energy transition across America, but it has now come up with an innovative and controversial plan to protect its mining industry – sue other states that refuse to take its coal.
A new state law created a $ 1.2 million fund to be used by the Governor of Wyoming to take legal action against other states that choose to fuel themselves with clean energy such as than solar and wind power, to meet climate crisis goals, rather than burning Wyoming coal.
Wyoming is America’s largest coal-producing state, digging up nearly 40% of nationally produced coal each year. The state relies heavily on mining revenues to run basic services and because it produces 14 times more energy than it consumes, the sale of coal to other states is a vital source of income. income.
The measure sends a message that Wyoming is “ready to take legal action to protect its interests,” said a spokesperson for Mark Gordon, the deeply conservative state Republican governor, who strongly supported Donald Trump during both. last presidential elections.
Trump has promised, but has failed, to revive a deeply declining coal industry in the United States, with Wyoming’s mining sector having lost thousands of jobs in recent years as utilities turn to gas supplies. cheap gas and that states like California are phasing out their sources of electricity generation.
Joe Biden has pledged that the United States will reduce its global heating emissions in the middle of this decade to deal with what he called “the existential threat of our time” in the climate crisis. But Wyoming’s provocative stance shows that the transition to renewables and electric cars will, in some quarters, be fiercely fought.
“We saw a spike in states trying to block Wyoming’s access to consumer markets to advance their political agenda,” said Jeremy Haroldson, a Republican lawmaker who introduced the new law.
Republican colleagues had previously proposed to ban the shutdown of all coal-fired power plants in the state. Haroldson said phasing out coal would risk the kind of disastrous blackouts Texas suffered in February. “It’s time we really started to care about the future,” he said.
Legal experts said the new strategy was on shaky ground.
While the trade clause of the US constitution prevents a state from banning goods and services based on their state of origin, nothing prevents them from banning certain things, such as coal, until the measure is aimed at a specific state.
Environmentalists argue that lawmakers should help build alternative industries to offset the inevitable demise of coal, rather than supporting a sector increasingly seen as polluting and outdated.
“The demand for coal will continue to decline in the United States and abroad, now that clean energy is more affordable and prevents pollution of our air and water,” said Rob Joyce, an activist for the energy at the Sierra Club of Wyoming. “If we are to get out of this state’s boom and bust cycle, we need to focus our investments on a new economic future rather than clinging to a declining industry.”
But while Wyoming’s rural landscape offers it good potential for wind power, the least populous state in the United States does not have a ready-made replacement for a mining industry that has long provided most of its revenue. , by financing essential services such as education.
“In many ways, this legal fund seems crazy, like a flat earth idea,” said Rob Godby, a natural resources expert at the University of Wyoming. “But for the people of Wyoming, there is no other industry. It’s not just people who are losing their livelihood, but also their culture – people here were proud to have kept the lights on all over the United States. It is very difficult to go from hero to villain.
Godby said lawmakers privately acknowledge that coal is on a steep decline that will force either cuts in services or hugely unpopular tax hikes, but that publicly fighting for the industry has become a litmus test for the industry. republican electorate.
“The lawsuits are going to respond to this rhetoric because it will appear that the state is pushing back leftists,” he said. “But it’s symbolic, the fight is over – even if you win a lawsuit, it’s a Pyrrhic victory because no one really wants the coal.” The losses to the state are going to be so great that the rationale is to try to postpone this as long as possible. “