Wyoming Legislators Want Gordon To Call Special Session To Fight Biden Coal Rule

Sheridan state Rep. Mark Jennings and other legislators want Gov. Mark Gordon to call a special session of the Wyoming Legislature to focus money and efforts into taking legal action against Biden rule to end Powder River Basin coal by 2041.

Leo Wolfson

June 12, 20248 min read

State Reps. Mark Jennings, top, and John Bear, bottom, are among those pushing to have Gov. Mark Gordon call a special session to fight the Biden administration's 2041 coal rule.
State Reps. Mark Jennings, top, and John Bear, bottom, are among those pushing to have Gov. Mark Gordon call a special session to fight the Biden administration's 2041 coal rule. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

State Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, is spearheading an effort to gather signatures of state legislators to urge Gov. Mark Gordon to call a special session to help the state better fight President Joe Biden’s new proposed ban on coal production.

The purpose of the special session would be for the Wyoming Legislature to dedicate money to hire outside legal representation to fight the new BLM rule that would end coal production in Wyoming's energy-rich Powder River Basin by 2041.

The May 16 order from the Biden administration came out of the BLM’s Buffalo Field Office as a result of a 2022 order from the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana in Billings.

While Gordon has not yet filed any litigation on behalf of Wyoming on this rule, he has sued over other administration actions to curb coal.

In his letter, Jennings writes that by being proactive on the matter, Wyoming can possibly fight off federal regulation that will likely have a large negative effect on Wyoming’s economy. The Powder River Basin mines supply nearly 50% of America’s electricity.

“After conferring with one another, we believe that there is one path forward suitable to address the seriousness of the situation we find ourselves in,” Jennings’ letter reads. “We would like to be part of the solution by making ourselves available in conjunction with the executive branch.”

Jennings did not respond to multiple Cowboy State Daily requests for comment about the call for a special session.

Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, who supports Jennings’ letter and calling a special session, told Cowboy State Daily the deadline for gathering signatures is Wednesday. The letter itself is postdated for Thursday.

Bear said the effort to gather signatures has been “gaining some momentum.”

“Those people who support the governor, who says he opposes Green New Deal policies and opposes Biden, should want to sign this letter,” he said.

A spokesperson for Gordon said the governor “is not going to respond to a letter he hasn’t received.”

Another Call For Special Session

Jennings’ call for a special session is the second this year. This spring, an effort was launched to call a special session to override some of the vetoes Gordon made to bills during the 2024 legislative session. That effort failed to receive enough votes for a session to be called.

This new call for a special session is different as it is a request for Gordon to call one, which he has the power to do at any time.

Bear said he doesn’t believe the governor will heed the request, mentioning his past work for environmental groups like The Nature Conservancy and Sierra Club, which he served as the treasurer for in 1993.

“These groups are happy about the BLM rules,” Bear said.

Gordon also spent time working in the oil industry before becoming state treasurer and governor.

Is Help Needed?

The governor has 60 days to comment on the new rules from when they were first unveiled May 16, while the public has until Monday to give its input.

Jennings' request includes money for a “constitutionally focused, proven legal team.”

Many in the Wyoming Freedom Caucus like Bear and Secretary of State Chuck Gray have complained that Gordon is not proactive enough in filing litigation on behalf of Wyoming.

“It’s clear that Wyoming doesn’t have the confidence to lead the fight on these issues, which is why we’re constantly the 19th, 20th or 24th state to join litigation,” Bear. “I don’t think this strikes fear in the Biden administration.”

Bear said Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill has intimated that she is not well-versed on federal minerals issues, but her office does have an entire Water and Natural Resources department with eight attorneys on staff.

In May, 16 members of the Freedom Caucus sent Gordon a critical letter demanding he immediately sue the federal government over the new ban on coal production. Gordon responded with a blistering attack and said he was not persuaded by their arguments.

Using the formal comment period is critical to building the foundation for a potential future lawsuit against the federal government, Gordon said in his response.

“Wyoming, you can be sure, will respond forcefully and strategically when appropriate,” Gordon wrote. “We are in the trenches fighting while some seem content to just make noise.

How To Fight The Battle

The Biden administration has taken an aggressive approach to curbing Wyoming’s legacy fossil fuel industries in the overall effort of fighting climate change. Over the past year, the administration has put new restrictions and bonding requirements for oil and gas development, a strict methane waste rule, curtailed multiple-use doctrines and unveiled a controversial Resource Management Plan for the Rock Springs area, Jennings’ letter notes.

Jennings is taking on Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, in a bid for the Wyoming Senate this August. Although Crago said he’s also frustrated with the Biden administration’s energy approach and believes Wyoming needs to fight back against it, Crago doesn’t believe calling a special session is the right answer.

“Instead of wasting money on a special session to just talk about fighting, we should use it to actually fight federal overreach,” he said. “That’s why I voted for the budget that already has money appropriated to defend our state.”

During this year’s session, the Legislature added within the biennial budget $1.8 million to the state’s federal natural resource policy account, which can be used for various mineral and environmental litigation. Jennings and most of the Freedom Caucus voted against the budget.

Bear said more critical was Gordon’s veto of a bill that would have carved out $75 million for the Wyoming Legislature to initiate legal action to fight federal overreach.

Some Movement Happening

Gordon did file three lawsuits in May challenging controversial federal environmental rules that could economically cripple the Cowboy State’s coal and natural gas-fired power plants and possibly push the relevance of coal as a revenue stream to the backburner in America.

The call comes in response to an Environmental Protection Agency rule issued in April designed to regulate coal and natural gas-fired power plants out of existence over the next decade.

The Wyoming Energy Authority has opened a request for proposals (RFP) from “companies, organizations and individuals” to secure services to support suing over the EPA’s recent proposal that could result in the early retirement of Wyoming-based power plants.

The RFP closes Friday.

WEA Director Rob Creager told Cowboy State Daily that it is tapping $300,000 from a $1.2 million litigation fund set up a few years ago by the state Legislature to fight Washington’s efforts to reduce the electrical grid’s dependency on fossil fuels for power-generating plants. In a May letter to Creager, Gordon said this money will be used for the Wyoming Energy Authority to contract with entities who can assist Wyoming “in anticipation of litigation.”

In a June 3 letter to the governor, the Freedom Caucus said this effort falls far too short.

“If you genuinely believe that a $300,000 remittance to your Energy Authority is enough to fight a battle of this magnitude, you either completely misunderstand the severity of the situation we find ourselves in (which is bad), or you are attempting to convince the public that you are fighting when you really aren’t (which is worse),” the letter reads.

The EPA rule also impacts the state’s efforts to push investment in carbon capture equipment on power plants to lower toxic emissions into the air, Creager said.

Decarbonizing The West

Carbon capture initiatives are a hallmark of Gordon’s energy platform, which took center stage in his Decarbonizing the West initiative that was released Tuesday on behalf of the Western Governors Association.

Gordon launched the initiative a year ago to examine how decarbonization strategies can position Western states at the forefront of energy innovation, reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and strengthen the economy, while continuing fossil fuel efforts. The initiative explores a wide range of engineered decarbonization approaches as well as natural sequestration through enhanced land and agriculture management practices.

“Western governors have a longstanding tradition of addressing complicated issues in thoughtful and bipartisan ways that often lead to national policy reform,” Gordon said in a press release. “This topic is not simple. I chose it because it’s important to gain a comprehensive understanding of strategies and technologies that can be utilized in managing carbon.”

Bear believes these strategies run in direct conflict with Wyoming’s legacy industries.

“The governor is bragging about lawsuits and defending the coal industry while at the same time promoting his Western Governors decarbonization efforts,” Bear said. “It’s oxymoronic if it’s true he wants to protect Wyoming’s legacy industries.”

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

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter