Gov. Mark Gordon is under fire from the Wyoming Freedom Caucus for comments he made about the state’s energy goals during a visit to Harvard University earlier this week.
During his talk at the East Coast school, Gordon said Wyoming needs to urgently address climate change by going “carbon negative.”
Gordon was at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics in Massachusetts on Monday promoting the Decarbonizing the West initiative he established in his role as chairman of the Western Governors’ Association.
"It is clear that we have a warming climate," Gordon said. "It is clear that carbon dioxide is a major contributor to that challenge. There is an urgency to addressing this issue.”
His comments drew the attention of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, which the next day issued a scathing statement saying the governor is “castigating Wyoming’s legacy industries.”
“As far as we know, the state of Wyoming has not unilaterally decided to wholly abandon our legacy industries, and this is not a decision that the governor can make- our state’s economy is not controlled by any elected official,” the statement says.
On Thursday morning, Fox News published a story about how the governor’s speech has been received by the staunchly conservative Freedom Caucus, including an interview with the group’s chairman, state Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette.
Gordon told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that he doesn’t think very highly of the story and that the comments he made at Harvard were completely consistent with the energy policies he’s promoted during his time as governor.
“Really, Fox News’ gratuitous comments just demonstrates the shallowness with which Fox News does their reporting,” Gordon said.
Gordon has consistently espoused an all-of-the-above energy platform, advocating for an equal commitment to traditional fossil fuels and alternative energies.
Bear told Cowboy State Daily that Gordon’s comments are embarrassing for a state that depends so heavily on its legacy fossil fuel industries and that investing in alternative energy directly hurts Wyoming’s fossil fuels economy and its ability to compete with China.
Since China doesn’t follow the same environmental standards as the United States, Bear said divesting from fossil fuels will only put Wyoming and America’s economies behind the world market because alternative energies are not yet producing at the level of fossil fuels. He said Gordon needs to put more focus on this piece.
“We as Wyomingites have to band together to ensure a future for our legacy industries,” Bear said.
Bear said green-friendly federal subsidies have resulted in alternative energies reaching a much larger than deserved footprint in the state’s economy that Gordon should not encourage.
This spring, the governor vetoed a bill that would have prohibited wind farms owned by independent power producers from using eminent domain to build transmission lines through private property to connect to the power grid.
Investment into alternative energies also has been reported by some for contributing to Rocky Mountain Power requesting rate increases of nearly 30%, although the company has disputed these claims.
What Is ‘Carbon Negative’?
While at Harvard, Gordon also said Wyoming is the first state to commit to becoming carbon negative, a point that drew particular attention from the Freedom Caucus.
The Freedom Caucus said that the rest of the state doesn’t share that commitment, and Gordon doesn’t speak for the state of Wyoming. Gordon declined to comment in response to this claim.
Gordon coasted to a second term reelection in 2022, beating his Democratic challenger by nearly 60% of the vote and his leading Republican primary opponent Brent Bien by a 32% margin.
People on both sides of the political aisle have refused to accept certain leaders as representing them, as seen during the presidency of Donald Trump and current presidency of Joe Biden.
Bear said Gordon needs to be more in touch with Wyomingites on the topic of becoming carbon negative and share his views across the state.
The fact that people in Wyoming had to learn of their governor’s views on being carbon negative from a speech on the East Coast is a problem, Bear said.
Although Gordon has often talked about reaching net-zero carbon emissions, he has less frequently discussed becoming carbon-negative.
“If he’s going to speak for the state, he’d better make sure that he makes it known how he feels,” Bear said.
It’s Not Anti-Fossil Fuels
During his speech, Gordon pointed to efforts to capture carbon, wind and solar energy, forest management, nuclear energy and hydro and geothermal technology as solutions to reducing carbon output.
Gordon said that carbon negative doesn’t mean walking away from the fossil fuels industry; rather, it’s using better technology to reduce overall carbon output. He gave an example of forest management, where a failure to remove fallen dead trees could lead to a forest fire, which would result in a massive carbon output.
“When I say carbon negative, I mean we can do something about carbon dioxide emissions going into the atmosphere,” Gordon said.
Gordon has also been a vocal proponent of carbon capture and carbon sequestration, efforts he believes can significantly reduce Wyoming’s carbon footprint. Bear said even those efforts will increase the cost of coal.
Gordon said that by reinventing and rethinking traditional energy, Wyoming can use technology in a way where it will continue to benefit from these industries in a more environmentally friendly way that continues to provide jobs.
“It’s (carbon negative) not the term to put anyone out of business, it is in fact just saying the technology can get better,” Gordon said. “And if we talked honestly about energy future, we should talk about the entire spectrum of energy sources.”
‘Based On Assumptions’
Traditional fossil fuels, and particularly coal, have generally been on a downward trajectory over the last 10-15 years. Gordon believes by finding new uses for coal such as a University of Wyoming program studying its use for asphalt, which he said results in 1/3 less carbon footprint, it will keep these industries alive.
Bear believes the traditional narrative about climate change science is an “assumptive” that should not be supported by the governor.
“He should not be making comments that are based on assumptions that man-made CO2 is warming the climate,” Bear said.
Bear said if climate change is man-made, people should be focusing on solutions that create a lower carbon output than building solar panels, wind turbines and electric batteries — all sources that still result in a substantial carbon output.
Gordon agrees that there needs to be more transparency on this front.
“The idea that we’re carbon neutral by somehow building renewables is not an honest idea,” Gordon said.
The Freedom Caucus also takes issue with Gordon making his comments at Harvard University.
Harvard has been criticized by many conservatives in recent months for free speech issues on its campus and for a number of student groups at the school blaming Israel for Hamas terrorists attacking the country earlier this month.
The Freedom Caucus specifically cited the latter as a rise in antisemitism on the campus.
Gordon said the discussion was narrowly focused and didn’t touch on that issue. If it had, the governor said he would have firmly spoken against Hamas.
“I would’ve said I stand by Israel. That is something I’ve said over and over again,” Gordon said.
Gordon said it’s particularly important to speak at a school like Harvard to fight misinformation about energy and bring a Wyoming-focused message to a demographic that doesn’t regularly hear it. He said he gave a similar message at the Conservative Climate Summit in Utah last month.
“I think Wyoming has got a terrific approach to pretty much energy, environmentalism, the way we approach conservation, what we do for ag,” Gordon said. “I’m happy to pridefully talk about what we do in Wyoming.”
Bear said although he appreciates that Gordon advocated for coal and oil during his talk, he doesn’t believe the governor did an adequate job explaining to the audience that the U.S. cannot isolate itself from Chinese competition.
“The world doesn’t have glass walls,” Bear said.
Michael Pearlman, a spokesperson for Gordon, said the governor had been asked to speak at the Harvard event about four months ago. Typically, when a state official in Wyoming attends an out-of-state event in their official capacity it is paid with state money.
Gordon said he also met with some Wyoming students attending the school and a conservative caucus group there, a presence he finds important.
“Conservative philosophy is something we need to have everywhere in our country and free speech should never be stifled for a conservative audience,” Gordon said.
In addition to his talk on decarbonization and energy, the governor also discussed housing and rural economic development.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.