This week the EPA unveiled a new rule to drastically cut carbon emissions from the nation's power plants. While Wyoming Republicans say it will devastate the economy, Matt Laslo reports from Washington that some experts say their outdated thinking has set the state back in the new energy economy.
The White House isn't waiting around for this Congress to help it tackle climate change. The new EPA rule will require Wyoming to slash it's carbon emissions by 19 percent. Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis says the state's energy producers are worried.
“I think they are bracing for it. We are hugely concerned about the impacts it will have. We will continue to push back in every avenue we have. And they of course will be in the position of complying."
About 40 percent of the nation's coal came from Wyoming last year. Lummis says the Obama administration's attempt to ween the nation off coal won't just hurt energy companies in the state. She says average families should also brace themselves.
"Oh, it’s going to have, I think, a significant economic impact. Rates for electricity are going to go up."
But what can Wyoming gain from the new rule? Senator John Barraso does not see a silver lining.
“I think this EPA regulation is going to be horrible for America, for jobs, for the economy and for the cost of energy. And at a time when the economy of the country’s actually shrinking, it’s the absolute wrong time to do it.”
Many experts disagree. A new White House climate assessment predicts the new, clean energy economy will actually create jobs, while they argue the status quo will cost jobs - along with bringing billions of dollars in economic harm from natural disasters. Wyoming's senior Senator Mike Enzi isn't buying it.
“I’m still trying to figure out how that could happen. If you drive up the price of electricity, that really helps the economy?"
But Julian Boggs, who directs the Global Warming Program for Environment America, says Barrasso, Lummis and Enzi are deaf to the data.
“It’s funny because it is the exact same argument that we have been seeing for decades from the polluters who don’t want to stop polluting. They said – they said that when we passed the Clean Air Act that it was going to destroy the economy and cost jobs, and America couldn’t afford it and America couldn’t innovate. Guess what? That didn’t happen. In fact we innovated. We grew the economy. We cleaned up our air."
Boggs says there are new opportunities for Wyoming as the government works to make the nation less dependent on fossil fuels.
"America innovates, business leaders come up with new solutions, we’re able to work in healthier workplaces and breathe healthier air and drink healthier water, and we grow our economy at the same time and we live in a better world.”
Wyoming has been slow getting to the table. Take the northeast and mid Atlantic as an example. Every state from Maryland to Maine signed onto a climate change compact that has already yielded a 40 percent reduction in carbon. Maryland has even gotten more than two hundred million dollars from its auction of pollution allowances since 2008. Maryland Democratic Senator Ben Cardin says if states like Wyoming followed their lead the new EPA rule wouldn't feel so bad.
"And we have moved down that path. And the good thing about the rule is it recognizes the progress that you've have already made. So Maryland's in good shape on energy efficiency, which we've used; alternative fuels, which -- renewable fuels, which we have; the regional compact that we're part of. All of that fits in well to the proposed."
Senator Enzi says Wyoming is different though. While the state gets roughly 90% of its energy from coal it also exports a lot of coal fired electricity to surrounding states, which Enzi says the EPA doesn't take into account.
"It also bothers me that Wyoming’s a net producer of electricity. Shouldn’t the states that use the electricity be the ones penalized for it, not the one producing it? That’s a service that we provide.”
Wyoming also gets about eight percent of its electricity from wind, but Enzi is skeptical of renewable energy's long term viability in his fossil fuel rich state.
"Well, if the sun shone twenty-four hours a day, and the wind blew twenty-four hours a day, that might work. But it doesn’t. And they’re already going after natural gas. So without coal and without natural gas, there’s not a whole lot left” said Enzi.
Critics say Wyoming lawmakers don't put enough trust in American ingenuity. But Enzi says he wishes the administration held off on the new carbon rule and devoted resources to cleaning up dirty coal.
"They really haven’t put any money even into loan guarantees for coal energy to make it better. And I’m pretty sure that if you give some young people the challenge of figuring out how to make coal better they can do it and wind up with some other products."
The administration isn't finalizing the new carbon rule for another 120 days as it waits to hear from average voters, businesses and policy makers. That gives Wyoming lawmakers a chance to be heard, but after years of court battles the administration doesn't seem to be in the mood to wait much longer to clean up the nation's air.