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The head of the EPA just visited Wyoming. Here’s what he learned from the trip.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon recently visited energy research centers around the Cowboy State.
Suraj Singareddy
Wyoming Public Radio
EPA Administrator Michael Regan and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon recently visited energy research centers around the Cowboy State.

The Head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently visited Wyoming. Gov. Mark Gordon took Administrator Michael Regan fishing on the Bighorn River then gave him a tour of energy research facilities in Gillette and Laramie. Regan said he wanted to learn more about carbon capture and storage technology and hear about how the EPA’s recently proposed regulations on power plant emissions could impact the state. Wyoming Public Radio’s Will Walkey spoke with Regan in-studio about his reflections from the trip.

The following transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. 

Will Walkey (WW): Administrator Regan, thank you so much for joining me today. And thank you so much for visiting Wyoming.

Michael Regan (MR): Thank you for having me. I'm really excited to be here.

WW: Can you tell us a little bit about this trip? Why are you visiting Wyoming? And what are your impressions of the state so far?

MR: It's been an awesome trip. Governor Gordon invited me to Wyoming close to a year ago now. He came to Washington D.C., to chat through some issues that we have worked through and are continuing to work through, and he invited me out to the state. He invited me to come fishing, which we did. But he also invited me to get a closer look at the advances in research and development around carbon capture and storage, which is one of the tools in our toolbox for the proposed power sector rule.

So, it's been a very educational visit, and also an opportunity for me to visit with a governor who is focused on technological advancement and having Wyoming play its role in this climate discussion that we're all having nationally and internationally.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (left) and EPA Administrator Michael Regan (right) fish with a guide on the Bighorn River.
Courtesy of Michael Regan
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (left) and EPA Administrator Michael Regan (right) fish with a guide on the Bighorn River.

WW: Can you talk a little bit about that proposed rule that you just mentioned? Why are these standards something that you are hoping to accomplish? And how do you anticipate it to impact a state like Wyoming where fossil fuels and coal fired power plants are a really important part of our state?

MR: From day one, President Biden has indicated that, as we look at this climate crisis, we need to do all that we can to control pollution. But also, the president views it as an opportunity to invest in new technologies. And so we have a two-pronged approach. One is regulation through this power sector rule. The other is the historic investments in combating the climate crisis through the Inflation Reduction Act. We believe that with both approaches – investing in states and communities right here in Wyoming, but also this regulation – they come together very nicely to reduce the carbon footprint in a way that suits Wyoming.

And listen, I am here in Wyoming to see firsthand how the state is preparing for the future. Because I recognize there is no one rule that is a one-size-fit all. What's happening in Wyoming is very different than what's happening in North Carolina. And so I can't do my job sitting behind a desk in Washington D.C. I have really, really enjoyed being here on the ground as a guest of the governor – building a relationship with him. And as he's stated so many times, we may not see eye to eye on everything, but there are things that we can work together on. And [with] the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act – billions of dollars – we need to be sure that Wyoming is getting the resources that the state deserves.

WW: Going back to those power plant regulations. I want to ask a little bit about the Wyoming response, which has been pretty severe against the EPA. Some of the main points that Wyoming politicians have made is that they're either too expensive, would hurt a community like Gillette too much or [are] just too heavy handed. What's been your response to some of the criticisms to this EPA proposed rule?

MR: I think this is about creating regulatory certainty for long term investments. It's convenient for people to say that it's [the] EPA. But if we look back at the past 10 years, the market has changed. Technologies have changed. The cost of certain energy generation technologies has come down. And coal [has] really been challenged in terms of being cost-competitive.

So we're really looking around the corner and thinking about how we diversify in a way that doesn't kill any one industry. But diversifies in a way that keeps this country globally competitive. And so I'd like to have real conversations with real people about the future. And not really demonize parties or political affiliations. At the end of the day, there are more things that unite us than divide us.

WW: What are some of the things that you think the Biden administration and the EPA can do to help a town like Gillette start to transition away from something like coal fired power plants. Because, as we all know, coal will probably have a place, but it's not going to have as big of a place within the greater energy footprint of the United States.

MR: Well, one of the great things in terms of the visit was looking at the facilities’ exploration of carbon capture and storage. We believe that there are some technologies in the toolbox that can control the emission profile from power sources that are generated by coal.

We also had a number of really good conversations about the multiple uses of coal, whether it be bricks or different types of filtration systems. The idea is to look at the potential diverse suite of options for coal production while also exploring the path for technologies that hopefully can be applied to some of the coal facilities – not just here in Wyoming, but abroad.

WW: Carbon capture is really exciting for a lot of folks in the state. But on the other side, some folks have said carbon capture is expensive, it could be ineffective, and maybe not even the right move in terms of, ‘Hey, we need to look into just other technologies.’ How is the EPA trying to find that balance of investing the right amount of money into carbon capture?

MR: Listen, this is a whole of government approach. And the president has indicated that carbon capture and storage must be one of the tools in the toolbox. The Department of Energy is investing billions of dollars into this potential technology.

We are facing a climate crisis. We also understand that so many of our young people are experiencing climate anxiety. But we don't have to be fearful. We can look at this as an opportunity to really explore technological solutions that work for states like Wyoming [and] that work in states like Nevada. But also, if we really do a good job on the research and development side, these technologies can be exported to countries like China and India, which will put us in a globally competitive position from a job creation standpoint and an economic development standpoint. So I contend that we must have an attitude where we use all of the tools in our toolbox. And that's why President Biden has been such a visionary leader in terms of looking at not just a regulatory approach, but looking at the Inflation Reduction Act and investing in technologies.

Equally as important is investing in communities that must also transition. The president has pledged to be a president for everyone, and so it's our charge not to leave any communities behind.

WW: And as you said, there is plenty of money available.

MR: I think when you look at the Inflation Reduction Act alone, you have close to $400 billion to invest in clean technologies and transitioning communities. But there's also a lot of adaptation resources in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law looking at hardening our infrastructure so that we can adapt to this changing climate.

The governor said it best. In some places, we're seeing wildfires, while here in Wyoming, we're seeing a milder summer. So we're seeing these temperature variations. We're seeing hurricanes [and] wildfires. The Governor and I were just talking about the intensity of a tornado that ripped through the state recently. We have to be prepared by hardening our infrastructure to some of these climate impacts that we're going to see. We have to prepare our economy and our workforce and our energy production for the future.

WW: I just want to ask about your reflections on visiting our state. It's no secret here that Wyoming politicians are often really opposed to most initiatives that the EPA puts together, specifically since the Biden Administration has come about. How do you hope to better communicate with states like Wyoming and find common ground in the future?

MR: Well, I don't think it’s any secret that the political rhetoric in this country is at a fever pitch and is not productive. And so we have to cut through that. The way to cut through that is to spend time in states like Wyoming and North Dakota. Spend time with governors like Mark Gordon and Governor Burgum in North Dakota. Governor Lujan Grisham in New Mexico. Really have real-world conversations on the ground and have the United States Environmental Protection Agency really understand the implications and impacts of our regulations. And design regulations, again, [that] are achieving the goals that we want to achieve – which is controlling pollution and protecting people while also growing and preserving our economy and our job market.

WW: I'm wondering if you just have any other takeaways from this visit that I haven't mentioned yet that might stick with you back home in D.C.?

MR: It's a beautiful state. And everyone that I've come in contact with has welcomed me with open arms with the recognition that we may have some policy differences. But we're all Americans seeking solutions for all of our communities. And so I'll take back a lot of what I've learned from the University of Wyoming – from my conversations with the governor and his team – and we will govern ourselves accordingly and try to infuse the comments and the experience that we saw today into any final products that we develop.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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