Gordon: Coal still has role to play

CASPER — Like a near-consensus of the world’s scientific community, Gov. Mark Gordon believes in climate change. Like many across the planet, Gordon believes the problem is a man-made one, and that something needs to be done about it. 

But – as he’s maintained on the campaign trail and into his second year in office – it doesn’t need to come at the cost of fossil fuels. 

It was a tumultuous first year for Gordon, whose plans to move the state’s coal industry toward the experimental world of carbon capture technology came amid a number of coal bankruptcies in the Powder River Basin. Under heavy pressure from the Legislature, Gordon vetoed a bill allowing the body to sue the state of Washington, delaying the announcement of his own, original lawsuit until this week. 

And, in remarks to reporters at the Wyoming Press Association’s annual banquet on Friday in Casper, Gordon re-affirmed his belief that the fossil fuels Wyoming has long relied on still have a place in the global marketplace, even as greater economic shifts have diminished their standing worldwide and the state has begun the process of understanding an economy where coal is no longer king. 

“There are some opportunities,” he said Friday afternoon. “In the national conversation about how to power our country, I’ve been very disappointed in the fact we have this expectation that fossil fuels are inherently bad – that there’s no way of bringing them back and that our only solution for climate change is to shift everything to renewables. 

“It is clear that renewables play an important part,” he added. “But it is also true that the technologies for fossil fuels have improved remarkably.” 

Gordon spoke about a recent conversation he’d had with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee – his “good friend,” he said – about the possible scenarios where fossil fuels can be a part of the solution to climate change, and that both leaders “do not disagree” on the issue. 

“The challenge is that only through better development of technology – the kind of stuff we’ve worked on for decades – can we actually start to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” he said. 

In his remarks, Gordon noted the expense of such a prospect – be it carbon capture (an area he has long championed) or through synergies with the agricultural sector. 

“This is a climate crisis we really need to address,” he said. “But we can only address it if we are serious about what the solutions are.” 

While Gordon struck an optimistic tone in his comments in speaking about the opportunities presented to fossil fuel states like Wyoming in fighting the climate crisis, there remains a difficult balance to strike in preserving the role of fossil fuels in the world’s energy portfolio. As Wyoming fights for access to international markets, the domestic market share for coal continues to decline. However, larger nations like China and India are anticipated to pursue more inexpensive (and dirtier) options to power their economies. 

Whether Gordon feels the Trump administration – which has championed coal but, to this point, has failed to stem its decline – can address climate change while supporting coal was an area he declined to get into when questioned by a reporter, saying it was Wyoming’s problem to solve – not the federal government’s. 

“The School of Energy Resources (at the University of Wyoming) has been working on this for some time. We have the ITC (Integrated Test Center). We passed the first body of law to pass carbon sequestration. These are state issues, and I believe we can be the solution to that,” Gordon said. “I will say that the Department of Energy has been very helpful. We’ve gotten grants to study the feasibility of carbon capture and sequestration and even different ways of burning coal, and I will say our relationship with the Department of Energy has been very positive, and I do believe there is a way to solve this problem going forward. 

“Am I going to comment on President Trump and his attitude? No,” he added. “I’m just saying Wyoming has an opportunity to solve this issue. It’s critical for us and it’s critical for our world.” 

But Friday’s comments also underscored the state’s relationship to the rest of the planet, and how critical the state’s economic future is to global affairs. 

Another challenge Gordon highlighted was the global market’s impact on uranium, which has seen its price tank as U.S. adversaries such as China, Russia and Kazakhstan have undercut U.S. supplies with aggressive extraction strategies. 

This is something so concerning to Wyoming that Gordon has even approached the Trump administration on a potential tariff on foreign uranium, he told reporters, though a spokesman for Gordon later confirmed those discussions were preliminary in nature. 

“We are pursuing opportunities to relay our concerns about uranium imports and support for tariffs to the federal government,” Gordon spokesman Michael Pearlman wrote in a text message after the Governor’s remarks on Friday.