Wyoming Threatens To Sue Over New EPA Rule Designed To Kill Coal

Gov. Mark Gordon is threatening to sue to stop EPA rules announced Thursday designed to regulate coal-fired power plants out of existence and undermine Wyoming’s economy.

Pat Maio

April 25, 20246 min read

Wyoming produces much of America's thermal coal, and also is home to several coal-fired power plants.
Wyoming produces much of America's thermal coal, and also is home to several coal-fired power plants. (Getty Images)

Coal-fired power plants across the United States, including in Wyoming, could close permanently within the next decade as a result of federal environmental rules released Thursday that significantly reduce pollutants emitted into the air and toxic wastes dumped into streams.

No coal-fired power generation also would scuttle Wyoming’s legacy coal mines, which produce about 40% of the nation’s thermal coal.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon is threatening litigation to stop the federal government’s actions that he says could undermine the Cowboy State’s economy.

Gordon has directed Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill to investigate forming a coalition of states to challenge the new EPA rules in court.

“We are prepared to apply our litigation strategy to the oncoming wave of federal regulatory actions that threaten Wyoming,” Gordon said.

The rules are “a bludgeon when a flyswatter would have worked,” he said.

A State-Killer

In Wyoming, the rules will hit many of the coal-fired plants from Naughton and Bridger in the southwestern part of the state, to Dry Fork near Gillette and the Dave Johnston plant near Glenrock.

The rules represent a big economic hit to the Cowboy State’s coal-rich Powder River Basin in northeastern part of the state where more than 4,000 people are employed in the industry.

“We are the nation’s leading coal producer,” said Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association.

The net effect of the rules will be to kill Wyoming’s dominant industry, he said, adding that’s stated ultimate goal of President Joe Biden's administration.

“When the federal government unfairly forces our power plant customers to close, Wyoming’s coal production will drop,” Deti said. “This means a loss of thousands of good paying jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to state and local governments.”

Some of the state’s coal-fired plants are already taking steps to convert units to natural-gas fired ones, though these new clean energy rules could accelerate this move.

A spokesman for the Warren Buffet-owned PacifiCorp, parent of Wyoming’s electric utility Rocky Mountain Power, could not immediately comment on the Biden administration’s latest salvo that could disrupt Wyoming’s coal plants and move up the schedule to close them forever.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday that the rules will improve public health without disrupting the delivery of electricity, and generally push a clean air agenda of alternative forms of energy production, like wind and solar.

The new rules are designed to reduce pollution from fossil-fuel fired power plants under 50-year-old federal laws: the Clean Air Act of 1970, Clean Water Act of 1972 and Resource Conservation Recovery Act of 1976.

Under the EPA rules, Wyoming’s coal-fired power plants are given specific end dates — as are all plants in the United States.

The options include shutting down by January 2032; convert to natural gas-fired plants by 2030, with a forced shutdown by Jan. 1, 2039; or install carbon capture scrubbing equipment by 2032.

Enough Is Enough

Wyoming leaders responded to the announcement with angry salvos.

Deti said the new rules are specifically designed to shutter all of America’s coal-fired power plants, many of which rely on Wyoming-produced coal for their main fuel source for electricity generation.

“Today’s announcement is a real belly kick to Wyoming,” Deti said. “Aside from the obvious impacts of driving up costs while further destabilizing America’s already rickety electricity grid by eliminating critical baseload power, EPA’s ill-intentioned and legally questionable rules package will seriously impact our state’s people.”

Deti represents a trade group of 33 mining members who produce bentonite, coal, trona, uranium and lignite, as well as companies developing gold, lithium and rare earth element deposits.

Deti is worried the new rules could spark a wave of layoffs throughout Wyoming.

“Wyoming coal jobs allow Wyoming families to pay their bills, put food on the table, buy their children some toys for Christmas and maybe take a summer vacation,” he added. “Coal revenue provides the funding that builds and maintains our roads, supports our schools, counties and towns, and keeps the tax burden low for all Wyomingites.”

Wyoming Will Fight

Gordon is succinct in his assessment: The EPA intends to end coal communities throughout Wyoming.

“EPA has weaponized the fear of climate change into a crushing set of rules that will result in an unreliable electric grid, unaffordable electricity, and thousands of lost jobs,” he said.

“Coal-fired power plants produce approximately 20% of the nation’s electricity, but under these rules, are shouldering 100% of the burden,” he said. “Clearly, managing [carbon dioxide] emissions are not the real target — it is Wyoming’s fossil fuel industries.”

The EPA rules stymie progress that power plants have already made in the installation of carbon capture equipment, he said.

“I have always maintained that Wyoming utilities and power plants are working as fast as they can to deploy multiple technologies for [carbon dioxide] capture,” he observed. “Nonetheless, rules like these stymie progress.”

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, said that the administration is targeting America’s power plants.

“This onslaught of overreaching and outrageous climate rules will shut down power plants and increase energy costs for families across the country,” Barrasso said.

“They will also handcuff America’s coal and natural gas production — two of our most affordable and reliable sources of electricity,” he said. “Wyoming energy jobs will be threatened, electricity bills will rise, and the country will be at risk for rolling blackouts.”

Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray also condemned the rules.

“The EPA’s new rules are a deliberate attack on Wyoming’s fossil fuel economy and the small businesses dependent on Wyoming coal and natural gas,” Gray said in a statement.

“I feel it is my duty to protect both our core industries and the businesses our office serves, who will face the wrath from these continued attacks on our Wyoming values by these onerous and unlawful federal regulations,” Gray said.

Pat Maio can be reached at pat@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Pat Maio


Pat Maio is a veteran journalist who covers energy for Cowboy State Daily.