Commentary: We have an unexpected opportunity to step into a cleaner energy future

By Richard Garrett, Jr.

A MAJOR UTILITY COMPANY TOOK A LOT OF PEOPLE BY SURPRISE on Tuesday when one of its representatives encouraged Wyoming to take the lead in regulating and permitting greenhouse gas emissions.

In a presentation in Jackson to the Wyoming legislature’s joint interim Minerals, Business and Economic Development committee, Cathy Woollums, senior vice president and chief environmental counsel for MidAmerican Energy (the parent company of Rocky Mountain Power) expressed the company’s conceptual support for a permitting/regulatory structure for greenhouse gas emissions that would be created and administered by the state of Wyoming.

The utility company seems to be acknowledging that if the state doesn’t do something to reign in greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA almost certainly will.

In a conversation I had afterwards with the committee co-chair, Sen. Grant Larson, he suggested that the state does indeed have authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions; he seemed to be saying that his committee might support the concept of state regulation if it could preserve the state’s primacy over EPA regulations.

During the break after Ms. Woollum’s presentation, I talked with Rob Hurless, Gov. Dave Freudenthal’s energy advisor. I asked him if the governor had expected MidAmerican’s support for state regulation, and he acknowledged that it was completely unanticipated.

The next day, in his regularly scheduled press conference, it seemed the governor had not yet heard the news from Jackson. In an attempt to describe the state’s reluctance to regulate (and, according to the governor, its statutory prohibition against regulating) greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, the governor said:

“We interpret [a 1999 Wyoming greenhouse gas law, which was passed in response to the Kyoto Protocol] to say, ‘Look, this is sufficiently ambiguous. That before you jump out and regulate (greenhouse gases) you better get some legislative action one way or the other.’ So, right now we are not prepared to say we can.”

If the state of Wyoming continues to take this position, however, there is a very real likelihood that the EPA will step in and limit emissions.

The governor realizes—as do legislators who heard testimony from the University of Wyoming and General Electric on Monday—that for new, cleaner coal technologies to be deployed it likely means that all CO2 must have a market value. Such an innovation will almost certainly require some kind of regulation.

While it’s true that some CO2 today has value when it is captured, transported, and sold for enhanced oil recovery—we are still dumping vast, unmanaged quantities of the stuff into the atmosphere from coal-fired power plants and other major sources with no monetary and market-based incentive to do otherwise.

Ms. Woollum’s testimony on Tuesday makes it clear that MidAmerican and Rocky Mountain Power are coming to grips with what the Outdoor Council has been saying for so long–it’s time to clean up emissions and prepare to invest in new technologies. Companies have concluded that they can continue to return value to shareholders, provide reliable and affordable energy to their customer bases, and (with luck) do their part to begin to address the very real threats of global climate change and disruption.

There is no doubt that Governor Freudenthal understands all of this and more. He has asserted repeatedly that there is an immense amount of money “sitting on the sidelines” that is waiting to be invested in cleaner energy technologies; and that we need to figure out how to use government action to activate the private sector in a way that modifies behavior but doesn’t choose one technology over another.

Now with the support of industry and environmentalists the governor and the state at last have a chance to “activate the private sector” to move purposefully toward a cleaner energy future that could help build a new, modern, thriving economy and a better environment (more on all of that in my next post).

The Wyoming Outdoor Council will continue to encourage the legislature and the governor to give MidAmerican Energy, GE, and others the regulatory structure and certainty they need.

Contact: Richard Garrett, Jr., energy and legislative advocate, Wyoming Outdoor Council, 307-332-7031 x18; 307-438-9516; richard@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org.

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4 comments on “Commentary: We have an unexpected opportunity to step into a cleaner energy future
  1. Janice Harris says:

    Very interesting/encouraging blog post, Richard. Thanks.

  2. Colleen Cabot says:

    Richard,

    Let me introduce myself first, as director of WOC back in the ’70’s, and part of the Citizens Lobby back when Freudenthal was Gov Herschler’s aide, and his brother was later head of Industrial Siting. We called them the Frudenthal dynasty… kind of on our side but had to watch them :0)

    Anyway, just read blog, and it struck a chord. Glad WOC has a staffer on energy policy!

    Living in California for the last 15 years, I had a bit more of a cynical response to MidAmerican’s interest in state regulation of green house gases. This November here in California, we are facing Proposition 23 – funded and promoted by texas oil companies who want to nullify California’s landmark climate and clean energy law (AB 32) passed with bipartisan support in 2006.

    The way I’m interpreting MidAmerica’s offer is to get in on the ground level and make sure Wyoming’s greenhouse gas program is weak enough to not get in their way. I know the industry always wants to know where they stand, and to get stability in the laws they operate under — but, they’ll push for the lowest common denominator.

    I’m sure you’re on to this, and read more layers than your blog put out. It’s always good to ride whatever flow they create; but with a ton of salt :0)

    Good luck – I’m ever grateful for WOC’s part in preserving my homeland/heartland.
    Colleen Cabot
    San Jose CA

    Here’s and environmental defense fund alert on Prop 23, fyi

    — On Wed, 9/22/10, Environmental Defense Action Fund wrote:

    From: Environmental Defense Action Fund
    Subject: Don’t Let Texas Oil Giants Threaten California’s Future
    To: barbwsheng@yahoo.com
    Date: Wednesday, September 22, 2010, 10:08 AM

    Having trouble using links or viewing images? View the web version.

    Texas oil interests are funding a multi-million dollar ballot initiative to kill California’s landmark climate law. With your help, we can stop them.

    Please pledge to VOTE NO on Prop 23 today.

    California’s world-renowned environmental leadership and plans for a clean energy future are under attack and we need your help to stop it.

    Two Texas oil companies are spending millions of dollars to ramrod through a dangerous and deceptive initiative on this November’s ballot.

    Proposition 23 — the Dirty Energy Bill — would effectively nullify California’s landmark climate and clean energy law, AB 32, which passed with bipartisan support in 2006.

    Please add your name to our “VOTE NO on Prop 23” petition and stand up against this cynical measure.

    More Background

    California’s climate law is set to take effect on January 1, 2012. It will make the state, one of the world’s largest economies, a leader in reducing global warming pollution and set the stage for creating even more clean energy jobs.

    Flush with victory in Washington, DC, where they killed national climate legislation this year, many of the same dirty energy forces are turning their sights west.

    Leading the charge are Texas oil giants Tesoro and Valero Energy Corporation, which have spent millions to support their dirty energy ballot initiative.

    As a Californian, you enjoy the distinction of living in a state that has demonstrated extraordinary — and bipartisan — leadership on global warming. California is a leader in green jobs and has the largest clean energy economy in the country, which employs 500,000 people statewide.

    If we can defeat Prop 23, we will continue proving to the world how environmental policies spur innovation, create jobs and give us a competitive advantage to compete in an $8 trillion global clean energy market.

    For the planet, the health of your children, and our economic future, please pledge to Vote NO on Prop 23 this November.

    Thanks for all you do,
    Environmental Defense Action Fund

    Environmental Defense Action Fund
    1875 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 600
    Washington, DC 20009
    1-800-591-1919

    EDF.org | Donate | Change your contact info | Change your subscription options.

  3. Colleen Cabot says:

    Richard,

    Let me introduce myself first, as director of WOC back in the ’70’s, and part of the Citizens Lobby back when Freudenthal was Gov Herschler’s aide, and his brother was later head of Industrial Siting. We called them the Frudenthal dynasty… kind of on our side but had to watch them :0)

    Anyway, just read your blog, and it struck a chord. Glad WOC has a staffer on energy policy!

    Living in California for the last 15 years, I had a bit more of a cynical response to MidAmerican’s interest in state regulation of green house gases.

    This November here in California, we are facing Proposition 23 – funded and promoted by texas oil companies who want to nullify California’s landmark climate and clean energy law (AB 32) passed with bipartisan support in 2006.

    The way I’m interpreting MidAmerica’s offer is to get in on the ground level and make sure Wyoming’s greenhouse gas program is weak enough to not get in their way. I know the industry always wants to know where they stand, and to get stability in the laws they operate under — but, they’ll push for the lowest common denominator.

    It’s always good to ride whatever flow they create; but with a ton of salt :0)

    Good luck – I’m ever grateful for WOC’s part in preserving my homeland/heartland.
    Colleen Cabot
    San Jose CA

    fyi
    Here’s an environmental defense fund alert on Prop 23,

    — On Wed, 9/22/10, Environmental Defense Action Fund wrote:

    From: Environmental Defense Action Fund
    Subject: Don’t Let Texas Oil Giants Threaten California’s Future

    Texas oil interests are funding a multi-million dollar ballot initiative to kill California’s landmark climate law. With your help, we can stop them.

    Please pledge to VOTE NO on Prop 23 today.

    California’s world-renowned environmental leadership and plans for a clean energy future are under attack and we need your help to stop it.

    Two Texas oil companies are spending millions of dollars to ramrod through a dangerous and deceptive initiative on this November’s ballot.

    Proposition 23 — the Dirty Energy Bill — would effectively nullify California’s landmark climate and clean energy law, AB 32, which passed with bipartisan support in 2006.

    Please add your name to our “VOTE NO on Prop 23” petition and stand up against this cynical measure.

    More Background

    California’s climate law is set to take effect on January 1, 2012. It will make the state, one of the world’s largest economies, a leader in reducing global warming pollution and set the stage for creating even more clean energy jobs.

    Flush with victory in Washington, DC, where they killed national climate legislation this year, many of the same dirty energy forces are turning their sights west.

    Leading the charge are Texas oil giants Tesoro and Valero Energy Corporation, which have spent millions to support their dirty energy ballot initiative.

    As a Californian, you enjoy the distinction of living in a state that has demonstrated extraordinary — and bipartisan — leadership on global warming. California is a leader in green jobs and has the largest clean energy economy in the country, which employs 500,000 people statewide.

    If we can defeat Prop 23, we will continue proving to the world how environmental policies spur innovation, create jobs and give us a competitive advantage to compete in an $8 trillion global clean energy market.

    For the planet, the health of your children, and our economic future, please pledge to Vote NO on Prop 23 this November.

    Thanks for all you do,
    Environmental Defense Action Fund
    1875 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 600
    Washington, DC 20009
    1-800-591-1919

  4. Marylou Morrison says:

    GOOD DEAL , DICK!!!!

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