Guest Column: The Market Doesn't Care What 30 Wyoming Legislators Think About Climate Change

Guest columnist Tom Lubnau writes, "The market doesn’t care what 30 Wyoming legislators, Gov. Gordon or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez think about coal and climate change. If buyers of energy are convinced that the product Wyoming sells is killing the planet, then, they won’t buy the product."

November 22, 20235 min read

Lubnau head 2
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Protecting the jobs and well-being of the voters of the State of Wyoming is the primary job of Wyoming’s legislators. 

Name calling and posturing, for whatever reason, should be a secondary consideration. But, in this age of social media, pontificating pundits on radio and tv and the 24-hour news cycle, it seems like bluster and headline grabbing are the “breaking news”. 

So, I guess it comes as no surprise that thirty legislators are leading the race to be the “most conservative” by attacking the Governor as being a traitor for speaking to an anti-carbon crowd.  They want to have a debate with the Governor on whether climate change exists.

But it does not matter what our state legislators or our Governor believe about anthropogenic climate change. They can believe whatever they want. What DOES matter is what the energy consumer believes.  If the buyers of energy are convinced that the product Wyoming sells is killing the planet, then, they won’t buy the product.  

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Energy consumers have voted with their pocketbooks. If one looks at the above graph, one can see that the peak generation capacity, in 2011, from coal fired power was 318 GW. 

By 2023, that generation capacity decreased to 184 GW.  At the same time, Campbell County’s gross domestic product (the measure of the market value of all goods and services produced in Wyoming) decreased from $7.8 billion dollars to $5.2 billion dollars. 

And believe it or not but  the production decreased at the same rate in the Trump years, as it did in the Biden years.  Energy buyers have decided to buy other – more expensive – types of energy.

Wyoming’s coal industry is floundering. The coal ship is listing to its side, and 30 legislators have climbed to the top of the leaning mast, and are yelling at the top of their lungs, “There is no such thing as anthropogenic climate change!” 

The market doesn’t care what 30 Wyoming legislators, Governor Gordon or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez think about coal and climate change.   Unless there is a market shifting change, the days of Wyoming selling 400 million tons of coal per year are gone.  The reason for the decrease in coal sales is the consumers of energy think coal is damaging to the environment. It matters what coal consumers think.  

Two things can happen to protect our coal industry.  

The far- right reactionaries who take themselves seriously can convince energy consumers that man-made climate change is a figment of a whole bunch of people’s imagination or an elaborate ruse (and maybe it is). 

But those folks’ track record of being persuasive is horrible. People have been yelling the “no climate change” mantra for years, and our coal ship lists even more.  Coal production is down half, and projected to go down to one-third, as energy consumers switch their energy sources. 

More and more folks are adopting the green banner all the time, and the shouts that climate change is not man-caused are currently empty shouts in the storm.  Perhaps these 30 folks up on the mast of the sinking ship know something I don’t know, but right now, they look pretty silly screaming the ship is not sinking, when the ship is sinking. 

The other thing that must happen to protect the coal industry is to change the product to make the product attractive to energy buyers.  

One of those strategies is to take the carbon out of the air and inject it underground – or in other words – carbon capture and sequestration.  

With a little added price (potentially through federal subsidies), coal, oil and gas suddenly become more marketable.  And coal miners and oil and gas folks still have their jobs. 

How can we expect our fossil fuels to continue to compete with subsidized “renewable” energy while the consumer wants to avoid fossil fuels to save the climate – regardless of what the science proves?  

In Wyoming, jobs should be the issue – not who can be the most conservative and vote “no” the most without pushing an agenda for a successful future. 

The focus of our legislature should be on doing everything it can to protect and enhance Wyoming citizens’ abilities to feed and house their families, have good jobs and provide the opportunity for a good quality of life.

If our legislators are not interested in doing just about everything they can to keep our hard-working coal miners employed they should leave the legislature.  

Thirty folks hanging on a sinking ship’s mast and shouting into the wind while the ship sinks is not a strategy but a recipe for continuing decline. The power generation statistics don’t lie.

The lawmakers must recognize that we have the statutory structure for carbon capture and sequestration, and we must do everything in our power to protect good energy jobs and stop trying to “out conservative” each other while Wyoming flounders.  

The legislators should debate an issue which makes much more sense to Wyoming, like how do we protect coal jobs.

Wyoming deserves much better than political posturing.

Tom Lubnau served in the Wyoming Legislature from 2005 - 2015 and is a former Speaker of the House.

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