Gordon's War On Carbon Escalates Feud With Some Wyoming Republicans

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon's war on carbon has escalated a feud with some in his own party who claim he’s turned on the state’s fossil fuel industries.

Leo Wolfson

February 01, 20245 min read

Gov. Mark Gordon and state Sen. Cheri Steinmetz.
Gov. Mark Gordon and state Sen. Cheri Steinmetz. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon isn’t backing off his push for decarbonization, which has caused a rift between the governor and some in his own party, like state Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle.

The heart of the rift is Gordon’s continuing stance that Wyoming should try to lower its carbon output because of its role in climate change. Some Republicans like Steinmetz firmly oppose this approach and argue that Gordon’s stance hurts Wyoming’s industries under what they believe to be a faulty premise in fighting climate change.

Next week, Gordon will participate in a workshop in Denver with Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis to examine decarbonization approaches such as direct air capture, carbon transport and geologic carbon storage. The event is part of Gordon’s Decarbonizing the West initiative as chairman of the Western Governors’ Association.

Then on Feb. 13 at the Wyoming Capitol, Steinmetz will convene an an oversight hearing on the environmental impacts of “net-zero” and “carbon negative” policies.

Steinmetz had claimed this would be Agriculture State and Public Lands & Water Resources Committee meeting, but on Thursday morning, House Speaker Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, and Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, put out a joint statement saying that Steinmetz's meeting cannot be considered an official meeting of the committee. They said they were never consulted about the hearing.

"While Sen. Steinmetz is free to hold an event in the Capitol auditorium on whatever issues she chooses, it is disingenuous to present such an event as sponsored by the Wyoming Legislature," the statement reads. "To be clear, there is no meeting of the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee upon adjournment Feb. 13."

Steinmetz did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.

In a Tuesday press release announcing the hearing, State Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, makes it clear the meeting comes in response to Gordon’s carbon reduction efforts.

“The Legislature must have a true cost benefit analysis in order to make an informed policy decision regarding the governor’s decarbonization plans for the state of Wyoming,” she said.

Michael Pearlman, a spokesperson for the governor, said since the event is a legislative hearing, his office has no comment on it.

For And Against

Gordon has consistently espoused an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy since taking office in 2018, supporting both fossil fuel industries and green energy endeavors 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 that directly harms these industries.

“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,” a spokesperson for Gordon told Cowboy State Daily in November.

Last week, Gordon and the Wyoming Energy Authority confirmed six projects focusing on carbon reduction, renewable energy and carbon capture to receive a share of $157 million in federal, private and state money.

Steinmetz is one one of Gordon’s most vocal critics about his decarbonization stance, efforts to work with Polis, and the governor’s openness to seeking federal incentives and grants for carbon capture projects.

In a Tuesday press release, Steinmetz said “prominent scientists” will be at the hearing to present to the committee and provide factual scientific data detailing the role of carbon dioxide in the environment.

She confirmed to Cowboy State Daily that scientists from the CO2 Coalition, an advocacy group that doesn’t believe carbon dioxide significantly leads to warming temperatures, will be there.

Steinmetz said that Wyoming policy decisions related to climate change are worthy of debate within the Legislature.

“In order to move our state forward, protect Wyoming industry, energy and the checkbooks of all Wyoming citizens, we must base public policy in fact, truth, and common sense — not popular political rhetoric, government financed goals for intermittent energy sources or climate extremism,” Steinmetz said.

Cost Analysis Needed

Gordon came under fire in October 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.

He offered similar comments to the CBS news magazine “60 Minutes," which aired in December.

After he went on “60 Minutes,” Steinmetz told Cowboy State Daily that Gordon continues to dodge the issue and needs to provide a cost-benefit analysis of his proposed policies.

“Governor Gordon continues to fail at presenting a full case that climate change is caused by C02, and that global warming is an urgent crisis,” she said. “The governor has never told the people of Wyoming what becoming carbon negative and decarbonizing the West will truly cost and what benefits they will lose in the process.”

Last Fall, she invited Gordon to debate with members of the CO2 Coalition. Although he originally expressed interest, Gordon eventually turned down the invitation.

Who’s Deciding?

Aside from executive orders, Gordon doesn’t have the power to make unilateral policy decisions without at least some outside support.

Any state spending measure he proposes must be approved by the Legislature in either its biennial or supplemental budget.

On the State Loan and Investment Board and Board of Land Commissioners, he also gets decision making power for issues like doling out of state grants and loans and the selling of state land, but he is joined by the four other statewide elected officials on these boards.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that the Feb. 13 meeting Steinmetz references is not an official committee meeting, according to Sen. President Ogden Driskill and House Speaker Albert Sommers.

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

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter