Mark Gordon Accepts Challenge From Wyoming Lawmaker For Climate Change Debate

State Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, and nearly 30 other lawmakers, have challenged Gov. Mark Gordon to debate climate change and the merits of his “carbon negative” policy. The governor said he’ll do it.

Leo Wolfson

November 11, 20238 min read

Gordon and Steinmetz 11 10 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Gov. Mark Gordon is being asked to defend his “carbon negative” view of Wyoming’s climate change goals in a debate, and the governor says he’s up for it.

State Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, circulated a letter among her fellow legislators urging Gordon to debate what’s causing climate change and the merits of his “carbon negative” policy. The letter, which was sent to Gordon on Friday afternoon, was signed by 30 state lawmakers and Secretary of State Chuck Gray. Most of the signers are members of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus.

“On behalf of the people of Wyoming who unquestioningly deserve a say in whether or not our state turns its back on fossil fuels in favor of ‘green energy,’ we challenge you and your designated representatives to a face-to-face, public, fair and factual debate on the issues of climate change and the purported contribution to it from CO2,” the letter says.

Michael Pearlman, a spokesperson for Gordon, said the governor is willing to debate.

He also said Steinmetz’s letter and email introducing the letter to her fellow legislators was “completely inaccurate, deliberately misleading and mischaracterize(s)” Gordon’s views on fossil fuels and green energy.

“Despite the inaccuracies raised in the email and letter, the governor is happy to entertain an opportunity to properly present his position on carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) in a public forum focused on finding solutions to keeping our core industries viable, and not just political grandstanding,” Pearlman said.

What Would It Look Like?

Steinmetz wants the governor to debate with scientists from CO2 Coalition, an advocacy group that doesn’t believe carbon dioxide significantly leads to warming temperatures.

“While climate alarmists claim to act ‘based on the science,’ oddly they do not encourage or join in debate with those who have different views,” the letter reads. “We believe that in Wyoming, we are better than that. The people of Wyoming are deserving of an open and robust conversation on this issue, to hear both sides of the CO2 debate and decide for themselves.”

Under the debate proposal, Gordon also would be allowed to provide scientists who agree with his viewpoints.

Steinmetz’s letter says Wyoming’s future is not for Gordon to decide alone and that he should be held accountable for his carbon negative agenda.

“Wyoming citizens deserve to hear why Governor Gordon believes climate change is an emergency and that CO2 is a pollutant,” Steinmetz said. “Wyoming citizens deserve an honest debate and the ability to be heard by their governor.”

That Trip To Harvard

Gordon came under fire late last month for comments he made at Harvard University, where he said Wyoming needs to urgently address climate change by becoming the first state to go “carbon negative,” and that carbon dioxide is the “major contributor” to the Earth’s warming climate.

Rep. Jon Conrad, R-Mountain View, works in the energy industry. Although he didn’t sign the letter, Conrad said he found the governor’s comments disappointing.

But he agrees that it is possible to attain a diverse and successful energy portfolio.

What concerns Conrad is a decline of coal in Wyoming and the possibility of putting too much faith into the future of carbon capture and sequestration, which can result in improved oil recovery, but also remains heavily dependent on government funding.

“What happens if the next presidential administration dissolves all the incentives for this industry?” he asked. “It’s basically based on the credits on imaginary money that’s going take away from my grandchildren’s inheritance.”

Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Thermopolis, a longtime oil and consultant, has a more upbeat perspective on carbon capture and sequestration, saying these methods will be available to use in Wyoming in only a few years. By doing so, Cooper said Wyoming can reduce its carbon output without ever touching its fossil fuels industries.

“Failure to move forward on these industries would be a remission on our part,” he said.

He also said Wyoming is poised to become a leader on CCUS worldwide and could be a valuable staging ground for Japanese efforts to use ammonia for fuel.

Same Stance

Gordon has consistently espoused an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy since taking office in 2018, supporting both fossil fuel industries and green energy like wind and carbon capture. It’s Gordon’s philosophy that by improving the technology used in fossil fuel production, overall carbon output can be reduced without taking any action to directly harm these industries.

In his 2020 State of the State address, he called for the next CCUS facility to be built in Wyoming. In 2021, he challenged Wyoming to become net negative through the continued use of fossil fuels.

“The idea of being net negative is about using a coal-fired power plant, biofuels from our forests and carbon capture and sequestration as a more practical means to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, instead of just changing to wind or solar,” Pearlman explained.

During Gordon’s tenure, wind energy production has roughly doubled in Wyoming to become 22% of the state’s energy portfolio.

Steinmetz said Gordon’s energy policies can be blamed for Rocky Mountain Power’s proposed 29% rate increase. She also said the high cost of carbon capture efforts will likely be paid through government subsidies, funded on the backs of Wyoming taxpayers.

Steinmetz said Gordon is “not capable” of defining what carbon negative means and that this effort is emblematic of President Joe Biden’s “Green New Deal” agenda.

“By using their narrative and terminology, he is subjecting Wyoming industry to scrutiny under their terms, which asserts that CO2 is a pollutant and by association our industries are polluters,” Steinmetz told Cowboy State Daily.

Pearlman disagrees that the governor’s stances are emblematic of the Green New Deal or serve as criticism of Wyoming’s fossil fuels industries.

Back And Forth

Gordon’s comments at Harvard drew backlash from the Wyoming Freedom Caucus and Fox News.

Last weekend, the Wyoming Republican Party passed a vote of “no confidence” in response to Gordon’s stance on climate change.

Earlier this week, Gordon stuck with his carbon negative goals at the Western Governors’ Association meeting in Jackson.

Steinmetz believes Gordon should be challenged on his views directly.

“Enough trading barbs via radio interviews, letters to the editor and comments to reporters, none of which can be answered concurrently by the other side,” the letter reads. “We believe that all Wyomingites will most benefit from a real, in-depth discussion of these issues. It is time for a fair debate at a neutral location, with a neutral moderator of your choosing.”

Does The Legislature Agree?

Steinmetz said she inquired with Legislative Service Office staff to ask if the Legislature has ever passed policies promoting the Green New Deal and or bills helping Wyoming become “carbon negative” in order to fight climate change, efforts which she equates to being one in the same.

“The answer is NO, we have NOT,” Steinmetz writes in her email. “I have grave concerns about the path the governor is promoting for Wyoming and his lack of communication with the Wyoming State Legislature, the policy making arm of government.”

Pearlman said the LSO’s determination is false and that even Steinmetz voted to pass legislation that works to make Wyoming carbon negative.

In 2009, the Legislature became the first state in the country to adopt comprehensive carbon sequestration legislation. Eleven years later, the Legislature passed a bill setting a tangible goal to reduce CO2 through carbon-capture on coal-fired power plants.

Steinmetz also voted to support legislation in 2022 that establishes clearer processes and more regulation of carbon storage and sequestration, a bill which Gordon viewed as favorable to the carbon capture industry.

Steinmetz said the bill doesn’t relate to Gordon’s policy of “decarbonizing the West,” an effort she compared to a controversial BLM Resource Management Plan being considered in Rock Springs.

“This is the blueprint for decarbonization, complete nonuse,” she said.

This isn’t the first time Gordon and Steinmetz have got into a tussle.

In a July op-ed, Steinmetz likened Gordon’s carbon capture partnership with Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis to “getting in bed” with Biden’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency.

Gordon responded to her in private, calling her op-ed an “unimaginable caterwaul” and her arguments hypocritical and misinterpreted.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter