Wyo. Senators Want Governor, Not EPA, To Decide State's Climate Future

May 29, 2015

Jim Bridger power plant
Credit Irina Zhorov of Wyoming Public Radio

Wyoming's two U.S. senators are getting behind a new effort to give Governors more power over the EPA. The reason is simple.

It's no secret the EPA has its sights set on the nation's traditional energy sector. In 2012, 39% of the nation's carbon emissions came from either coal, oil or natural gas fired power plants. There's only about 2500 of them nationwide, and the EPA is demanding they cut their emissions or it will have them shuttered. Wyoming's junior Senator John Barrasso says the EPA is forcing the energy industry to make terrible business decisions. 

“I think the benefits are unproven, the costs are real. It has to do not just with new, yet to be constructed power plants, but with existing power plants so it’s things that people would have to do today that could impact the affordability of energy, the availability of reliable energy and the economy of a state.”

Barrasso and other lawmakers are pushing legislation that would take the keys away from the EPA and put governors in the driver's seat when it comes to carbon. The bill is dubbed ARENA - which stands for the Affordable Reliable Energy Now Act. It requires the EPA to propose how individual states can meet stringent, new emission requirements. If the state's governor thinks the plan would hurt the economy they can reject it. If Electric rate hikes are foreseen, a governor can also reject it. In other words, Governors like Matt Mead would be given license - and the power - to reject anything coming out of Washington, which Barrasso says makes sense. 

“I think it’s critical to have the governors involved. Whenever Washington comes up with a one size fits all approach it hardly ever works for Wyoming. And the regulations that have been coming out of this administration are such that it’s hurting our jobs, hurting our workers, affecting the quality of life of people across the state.”

Not so fast say Obama administration officials and the environmental community. David Doniger works on clean air programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council – or NRDC. He says this latest effort by conservatives is a thinly veiled attempt at gutting the decades old Clean Air Act, which the EPA is flushing out with its new Clean Power Plan. 

“Well, it seems to be all of the ways that coal and power company lobbyists can think of to kill the Clean Power Plan all wrapped up into one bill.” 

I think it's critical to have the governors involved. Whenever Washington comes up with a one size fits all approach it hardly ever works for Wyoming. And the regulations that have been coming out of this administration are such that it's hurting our jobs, hurting our workers, affecting the quality of life of people across the state.

The plan is still being finalized even as it's being challenged in court, but early estimates from Harvard and Syracuse universities say it could reduce premature deaths by 3,500 annually. They also say it's vital for combatting climate change which is threatening coastal communities across the globe and causing devastating droughts in places like California. Doniger doubts the new bill will become law, but he says it shows where Republican priorities are. 

“It’s a message bill. But it has the knives out for the Clean Power Plan. Any one of the knife thrusts in this bill could kill the Clean Power Plan and block the regulation of carbon pollution from power plants – the biggest source of climate pollution that we have.” 

Wyoming Senior Senator Mike Enzi sees things differently.  He says the proposed plan punishes energy-producing states like Wyoming by "taxing" them on the front end of production. 

“But they put some huge penalties in for the states that are providing the electricity made with that – most of the electricity we make in Wyoming doesn’t get used in Wyoming, it gets used in other states, primarily California.”  

And, on the other hand, Enzi argues, the proposed EPA rule even punishes states like Wyoming for the strides it's made in renewable energy. 

“The way they’ve written the rule is that if you’re doing renewable energy in Wyoming and it’s used somewhere else, it’s the other state that gets the credit, so we’re getting double dinged on helping out on energy and that’s not fair.”

For Enzi and other conservatives, governors are best situated to decide their state's energy futures, not the EPA and its current proposal to regulate carbon emissions. 

“So there’s not a lot of thinking into the future and there’s no localization of any of it. They’re not letting the states have any help in designing a better world. And if you talk to the people closest to the source, they’re the ones who can come up with the best ideas.”

Here's the thing though: while Republicans control the Senate, the new bill has only one Democratic co-sponsor so far. That means it stands little chance of ever becoming law unless it or some of its provisions are slipped into must-pass spending bills. That's called attaching a policy rider to a spending bill, which that environmentalist Doniger says could even set the stage for another government shutdown. 

“We don’t know if they will be able to get a policy rider through the Senate. If they do I don’t think the president will sign the bill because he’s very determined to protect his signature initiative to curb the pollution that’s causing climate change.”

While this new effort to combat President Obama's environmental priorities is unlikely to go anywhere, it highlights a battle in Washington that will play a key factor in the next presidential election. So for now it's merely a Republican wish list of energy priorities, but if a Republican is able to retake the White House in 20-16 that wish list just may become law.