Former Gov. Dave Freduenthal spends his days practicing law in Cheyenne, teaching at the University of Wyoming Law School in Laramie, sitting on the board of St. Louis-based Arch Coal Inc., and visiting his four adult children who are scattered across the country.
“I’m a little busier than I’d like,” Freudenthal said last month in an interview with the Casper Star-Tribune. “I’m going to teach through spring semester. That will be the last semester I’ll teach at the law school. I have too much on my plate.”
And that apparently rules out the obvious question, the “will he or won’t he” chatter among every mover and shaker in Wyoming: Will Freudenthal become president of the University of Wyoming when current President Tom Buchanan retires next summer?
“I keep hearing that,” Freudenthal said. “I heard it over the weekend when I was over in the 2Shot Goose Hunt in Torrington. You know, people asked me about it. No. I’ve been approached about it but it is not something I’m pursuing.”
Freudenthal said he was approached by UW trustees and “others.”
“It was very positive but it’s just not something I’m pursuing or interested in at this point of my life,” he said.
A 1980 graduate of the UW law school, “Gov Dave” began teaching at his alma mater spring semester 2011, about the time his second term as governor ended.
His seminar -- Energy, Law & Economics -- is once a week for second- and third-year law students.
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “I find the young people interesting and thoughtful and they work really hard.”
Steve Easton, dean of the law school, has sat in on Freudnthal’s class. He said there are law, business and School of Energy Resources students in it.
“He will teach the class with a guest that has some involvement with the energy industry or regulation of the energy industry,” Easton said. "I’ve told our students it’s a billion-dollar class for inexpensive tuition.”
For instance, Freudenthal once brought in an executive with El Paso Pipeline Partners L.P.
“He also has the students write a two-page paper every week,” Easton said. “I’ve heard him say we have to be able to communicate to our clients in short bursts, so that’s why he has the two-page papers. They’re dense papers. There’s a lot in those two pages. He is not bashful at all about giving our students suggestions on how to improve their writing. I think they get an amazing education in writing in our course, too.”
Meanwhile, Freudenthal is co-chairman of a task force attempting to create a Tier 1 engineering program at UW. Chad Deaton, executive chairman of Baker Hughes Inc., also serves as co-chairman of Gov. Matt Mead's Energy, Engineering, STEM Integration Task Force.
The Tier 1 engineering program would integrate with the School of Energy Resources. Freudenthal expects to discuss the strategy with lawmakers during the legislative session that convenes Jan. 8.
Freudenthal worked with state lawmakers and the UW administration to create the School of Energy Resources in 2006. The school supports academics and research for energy programs, said Director Mark Northam.
Northam said the former governor continues to help the school “even after leaving office, in developing out partnerships with the private sector in energy.
“He’s helped us with fundraising and has been extremely valuable in that effort.”
Freudenthal is a Democrat in staunchly Republican Wyoming.
He was widely popular as governor, first elected in 2002. He left office in January 2011 with an 80 percent approval rating.
Freudenthal governed during a boom Wyoming’s commodities-based economy. His appeal was his attitude of bipartisanship and support of mining and natural resources by balancing extraction with preservation.
Arch Coal named Freudenthal a director in 2011, after he stepped down from public office.
The board meets in St. Louis and at some of the company's mines. In Wyoming, Arch Coal owns the Black Thunder and Coal Creek mines in the Powder River Basin and Arch of Wyoming in Carbon County. Wyoming is the top coal-producing state in the country.
“It’s a board that meets fairly regularly,” he said. “They provide a lot of material for you to read. It’s fascinating.”
Coal demand and prices have been down because a combination of new regulations on power plants and low natural gas prices that have created an incentive for utilities to switch from coal-fired to natural gas-fired generators.
Freudenthal believes the future for Powder River Basin coal will be “pretty good.”
“The advantage for the Powder River Basin is it really remains the low-cost producer in terms of [British thermal units.] But with the economy flat and competition from natural gas along with some of the regulatory uncertainties, I think it’s going to be challenging but it’s not too bad.”
Freudenthal describes a federal regulatory environment in which too many requirements have been implemented in too short of a time.
“It’s not that the industry can’t adjust to new regulatory requirements, but that can’t be overnight,” he said.
Congress can’t function and a lot of environmental decisions are being made by the federal courts, he said. Freudenthal cited as an example the Massachusetts vs. Environmental Protection Agency case in 2007, which resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the EPA must regulate carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions.
“The courts are not good places to set environmental policy,” he said. “We’re having a combination of court-imposed and administrative agency-imposed law instead of laws being developed by Congress.
“If the country is smart, what we’ll have is a fully diversified portfolio that will have oil and gas and coal and uranium and the rest of it,” he added.
The law and other passions
Freudenthal practices natural resources and energy law in the Cheyenne offices of the Washington, D.C.-based firm of Crowell & Moring LLP.
A former U.S. attorney, he has practiced law most of his adult life. His wife, Nancy Freudenthal, is a federal judge in Cheyenne. People tend to forget that, he said.
In his spare time, Freudenthal enjoys hunting and fishing.
He also enjoys spending time with his family.
“They’re past being little teenage monsters and they’re actually fun to be around,” he said with a chuckle.
His youngest child is 26.
“Life is frankly better than I deserve,” he said.