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Obama’s climate change plans will affect Wyoming coal

Posted: Tuesday, Jul 2nd, 2013

Ed Close

On June 25, President Barack Obama unveiled his new plan for dealing with climate change and pollution. Out here in Wyoming, many of the things they do in Washington have little effect, but this is different. This could have far reaching impacts for coal-fired power plants across our state.

The President is ordering the Environmental Protection Agency to set standards for greenhouse gas emissions from older power plants, specifically coal-fired ones. In other states, many power plants have been converted to use natural gas, but that isn’t so here in Wyoming. We produce a great deal of natural gas, but as the largest coal producer in the United States, Wyoming uses coal as the predominant fuel for energy production.

One has to wonder what kind of impact this presidential order will have on the coal industry here. There are already standards set for new coal-fired power plants, but up till now, there weren’t any such standards for existing plants. There are no estimates out there yet on the costs of retrofitting existing plants in Wyoming, because no one knows yet what the standards will be. Some have made dire predictions about the future of coal, but that seems premature until we have facts to go on.

There may be an up side to all of this, as well. If it costs too much to meet the new standards, there is the chance that converting existing plants to natural gas would lower emissions, as natural gas burns cleaner than coal. If that happens, we would need even more natural gas drilling and production across the state to fuel the power plants, and we’d certainly drop the amount of emissions below any standards set for coal.

With the slumps in production of natural gas in the last two to three years, and the drop in severance taxes to the state and the counties because of that slump, these new standards may be a blessing in disguise. I realize that doesn’t do much for the coal industry, but I also know Americans are highly adaptable and resilient people. I’ve changed occupations multiple times over my lifetime, and I’m pretty certain others can do the same.

The President also intends to add incentives and push for more renewable energy, and that could bring more jobs to the state through wind farm development. Once again, that would require workers to learn new trades, but the jobs would certainly be out there. I do know there is a class now in place and proper training is available for wind generator work at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

There are a lot of questions left unanswered at this time about what these EPA changes might mean to our state, but I believe in our people and I believe whatever we face because of these new regulations, Wyoming will find a way to turn any ill effects into positive outcomes.

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