Gordon Changes Mind: Will Not Debate Legislators On Climate Change

After initially saying he was open and willing to debate, Gov. Mark Gordon on Monday declined a challenge by 30 state legislators to debate his “carbon negative” policy for Wyoming and if climate change is real.

Leo Wolfson

November 21, 20235 min read

Gov. Mark Gordon
Gov. Mark Gordon (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Those who wanted Gov. Mark Gordon to engage in a good old-fashioned wrangling of words about his “carbon negative” goals for Wyoming and the causes of climate change will be disappointed.

After initially saying he was open and willing to debate the topics, Gordon on Monday formally declined in a letter to the 30 state lawmakers who issued the challenge.

A spokesperson for Gordon confirmed to Cowboy State Daily this was the intended message of the letter.

In his letter, Gordon said the debate over whether climate change is happening and what are its causes has “raged for over two decades” without a definitive conclusion.

“So rather than join the unfruitfulness of that fray, and recognizing that, alas, one side of that argument currently holds most of the levers of regulation, I have sought to position our industries competitively as a practical and more proximate way to attain the stated objective of reducing CO2 in the atmosphere without also putting people out of a job,” Gordon wrote.


State Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, had led the effort to organize a debate between the governor and scientists from CO2 Coalition, an advocacy group that advocates that carbon dioxide doesn’t significantly lead to warming temperatures. Gordon has said that whether climate change is a crisis or not, because much of the rest of the world believes it is means Wyoming has to adapt to that marketplace.

Steinmetz told Cowboy State Daily that Wyoming residents from across the state and political spectrum contacted her for help addressing Gordon’s stance on climate change in a debate.

“This would’ve let us to base our policy decisions in fact,” she said. “Unfortunately, the governor has declined our invitation and refuses to explain why he believes our state should be carbon negative.”

She also mentioned how Gordon has made “decarbonizing the West” one of his main policy initiatives as chair of the Western Governors’ Association. Gordon’s letter acknowledges the energy stances of President Joe Biden’s administration, which has advocated for a significant rollback of fossil fuel production in return for greener energy policies.

“He seems content to acquiesce to the Biden administration and their climate doctrine,” Steinmetz said.

The governor said he is focused on promoting Wyoming’s industries while working in the parameters of the world market.

“Far from turning my back on our traditional industries or the employees who work in them, I have worked tirelessly to emphasize their relevance and to assure their continued future by highlighting their practical potential for reducing so-called greenhouse gasses when advocated of an unrealistic ‘Green New Deal’ want to shut them down,” he wrote.

Gordon letter declining debate 11 21 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

What’s His Stance?

In his letter, Gordon also criticized those who have said he’s changed his stance on energy and climate change.

“Respectfully, I would suggest the nonsensical allegations that I have changed my tune on our coal, oil and gas industries are either craven misrepresentations of my record on the topic for venal political gain or complete ignorance of my commitment to defend our core industries against all comers regardless of national climate policy,” he wrote in his letter.

Gordon drew the ire of dozens of Wyoming lawmakers for comments he made at Harvard University last month, 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.

Gordon clarified to Cowboy State Daily and in his Monday letter that he fully supports fossil fuel production and wants to support an array of energy sources, adding that people in Wyoming “know how to walk and chew gum.”

His critics, however, say the governor has changed his stance on these issues. That includes Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, who said Gordon needs to travel around the state and let people known that he holds these views.

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 carbon capture and utilization facility to be built in Wyoming. In 2021, he challenged Wyoming to become net negative through the continued use of fossil fuels. During his State of the State address this year, Gordon said Wyoming leads the nation in “advanced carbon innovation.”

“Carbon capture is essential if we are to address climate change and provide a catalyst in the path forward for fossil fuel production in our state,” he said.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter