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Science & Environment

Wyoming Governor: EPA Is 'Shutting Down The Coal Industry'

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Obama administration's new clean energy standards require states to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. That means they'll likely be burning a lot less coal. And that's going to have a big effect on the state of Wyoming. Wyoming produces roughly 40 percent of the nation's coal, more than the next six states combined. We're joined now by the governor of Wyoming, Matt Mead, to talk about what these new standards will mean for his state. Governor, welcome to the program.

MATT MEAD: Rachel, glad to be on. Thank you for covering this topic.

MARTIN: May I first just ask, what was your reaction to President Obama's announcement?

MEAD: You know, the reaction is certainly this is bad news for Wyoming if it is allowed to go forward. And of course we've asked for a stay with - along with many other states. But beyond that, I think it should be viewed as bad news for the country because what coal provides is roughly 40 percent of electricity in this country. It's an extremely affordable electricity source. It's going to be not only higher electricity costs and heat and cooling costs; but because energy's tied to the cost of nearly everything we do, we'll see increased costs in everything. So from my standpoint, it's terrible for Wyoming. And I think it's terrible for the country.

MARTIN: Do you agree that greenhouse gas emissions are a problem and need to be cut?

MEAD: One, I don't think that they have the legal authority to do this. But two, with any energy source, whether it is coal or gas or even wind, I think there is room for efficiencies. And I think there's room to clean it up. But I think this is the wrong way to do it. The better way to do it is what we're trying to do in Wyoming, is with innovation and research, looking at how we make coal as clean and as efficient as possible while still allowing it to continue. If you want improvements in coal, you've got to keep people in the business. And you see the tremendous losses coal companies are suffering now. And I think this rule is just going to push them further down the hole. And we're not going to see the increases and improvements in technology and innovation that we need to.

MARTIN: But even the cleanest version of coal still emits more carbon dioxide than natural gas.

MEAD: Well, the - I mean, certainly I think everybody recognizes that coal has, you know, emissions that are worse, looking at cleaning up. But when you go about it the way EPA is going about it, what they're effectively doing is shutting down the coal industry, not little by little but in fairly significant steps. You know, I believe that we need renewables. And I am a big fan of natural gas. But to do it in an environmentally prudent way versus an economic way I don't think gets us where we ultimately want to be. And, you know, if we were looking at energy as a stock portfolio, we're putting too many eggs in one basket rather than having the diversity that we need to ensure not only economic stability but energy security for many years to come.

MARTIN: It's a basic tenet of investing, to diversify. Are you intent on doubling down on coal and fighting these federal regulations? Or is this a push to diversify when it comes to the energy that's produced in Wyoming?

MEAD: Well, we will continue to double down in terms of this fight. But we will always continue to diversify our economy. You know, we have the best onshore wind in the country. We have the number one uranium reserves. You know, we're in the top 10 in oil production. And so we are well diversified in terms of energy. And I believe all those energy sources are needed. When we think about over a billion people on the planet not having electricity, this isn't the time to be taking energy sources off the table. It's a time to improve all of them to provide energy needs for Wyoming, the country and the planet.

MARTIN: Governor Matt Mead of Wyoming, thank you so much for talking with us.

MEAD: Rachel, thanks very much for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.