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Senate passes language that would strip funding for Gordon’s climate and energy research program

Windmills in Wyoming
James Vislosky
A group of wind turbines in Albany County

Funding for Wyoming’s energy and climate research just got a little more uncertain.

The Wyoming Senate passed an amendment to its budget bill that would strip a matching funds program, with purview from the Wyoming Energy Authority (WEA) and Governor Mark Gordon, of almost $400 million.

The WEA, which was created in 2020 under state leadership of Gordon, leads Wyoming’s energy transition, which is focused on Gordon’s ‘all of the above’ energy strategy to address climate change. This strategy includes using all types of energy sources, including renewables and potentially cleaner ways of producing fossil fuels.

The group vets research proposals from universities and businesses, like using carbon capture technology on coal plants, and if approved, they award state money to fund the research. It comes from the governor’s Energy Matching Funds program, which was formed in 2022. Basically, if a project has 50 percent matching funds, either federal or private, and it’s chosen by the WEA review committee, the state will match the funding.

But, Sen. Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle) is skeptical of how that money is being spent.

“Because scientists and engineers are not the appropriators of taxpayer money,” said Steinmetz, who’s also the bringer of the amendment.

Ultimately, the governor has final say of which projects are awarded state funding. But, Steinmetz didn’t like that either.

“Do we want to be legislating and appropriating these funds? Or do we want the sole discretion of the governor to make these decisions for us,” Steinmetz said on the Senate floor last week. “I would like us to be involved in these decisions when we're dealing with this amount of funding.”

Steinmetz thinks the legislature should vet each project, rather than grant a lump sum of money for the WEA to divvy out.

This comes after backlash against Gordon’s ‘all of the above’ energy strategy. Steinmetz chairs the Senate Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee, which held a controversial hearing with a national climate change denial group at the beginning of this year's legislature. The speakers touted disproven claims that climate warming emissions are not only not contributing to climate change, but that the earth needs more of them. The speakers and far-right five lawmakers in attendance all either questioned the validity of whether climate change is happening and Gordon’s choice to address climate change.

While this hearing did not come up during discussion about the amendment, many who voted in favor were also in support of the hearing.

Notably, some senators, who don’t identify with the senate’s far-right, expressed concern about the matching funds program, but still voted to keep the funding available.

“I have concerns about a governor having hundreds of millions of dollars to choose what projects to fund or what they're interested in. I think it is a dangerous precedent to set,” said Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne). “That said, I am worried about the pending projects currently underway that may be interfered with and the damage that may be caused.”

Nethercott voted against the amendment, but noted she’d like to return to the conversation at a later date.

Notably, Wyofile reported that at the WEA’s matching funds review committee meeting this week, members were clear that already approved grants and the entire program could disappear based on this amendment. This includes two projects recommended for funding just this week – a carbon sequestration project looking for almost $10 million and a critical mineral project looking for about a $1 million.

Both research projects are identified as ways to reduce the energy world’s carbon footprint and help with the energy transition. Something Sen. Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) said is necessary.

“But unless we stay on the cutting edge of all this change, we're going to lose out,” Dockstader said on the Senate floor. “It will eventually affect the economy of our state.”

Dockstader voted against the amendment, saying it could limit this research.

The amendment narrowly passed the senate as part of their budget bill and will be hashed out further in joint meetings about the budget.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.

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