CHEYENNE -- Gov. Matt Mead sought to recast the debate on climate change in a speech to the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority on Wednesday, saying the country needs to focus its attention on solutions rather than fighting over whether the planet is warming.
The change in the governor's position was subtle.
Much of his speech, delivered at the infrastructure authority's spring energy conference, was devoted to repeating his long-standing views. He reaffirmed his skepticism of climate science. He touted the economic importance of the state's coal industry. At one point, the governor spoke of "energy poverty" in the developing world, or the lack of access to adequate health care, technology and other services requiring electricity. The term is being used by Peabody Energy, one of the world's largest coal companies, in its latest public relations campaign, "Advanced Energy for Life."
And he warned of dire economic consequences if, as he predicted, new regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shutter coal plants around the country.
Then he added a twist to his old narrative.
"I'm not a scientist. I could be wrong on this," Mead said. "So let's just assume for today, that I am wrong. Let's assume that, in fact, coal-fired generation is the cause of global warming. Then the question is: What is being done and what should be done?"
Coal companies' weak earnings reports suggest the markets believe in climate change and are moving toward lower carbon options, Mead said. Whether one believes in climate change, Wyoming needs to respond to that shift, the governor argued.
"My point is this: Whatever your views are, shouldn't we all say listen, coal is a valuable resource that we want to use today, and for the next [300 to 400] years or whatever it may be, so let's find solutions," Mead said. "You're not going to find solutions by putting unreasonable rules and regulations that will prevent coal-fired power plants from being produced. ... To me, they (the federal government) are not trying to find a way forward, how to use coal. They are trying to find a way to stop coal."
The government should focus its energy on developing clean coal technologies, not regulating the industry out of business, Mead said.
He touted the state's $15 million investment in an Integrated Test Center, which will explore commercial uses of carbon dioxide, and its partnership with General Electric on the High Plains Gasification plant. The facility would have served as a test site for turning coal into gas, but GE and the University of Wyoming announced in 2011 they were suspending the $100 million venture, which was be funded equally by company and state, because of the nation's uncertain energy policy and weak electrical demand.
The U.S. Department of Energy invested $334 million in American Electric Power’s Mountaineer Plant in West Virginia. The facility successfully demonstrated carbon from coal-fired generation could be captured but was taken down following the collapse of congressional negotiations over cap and trade legislation.
DOE also contributed $300 million toward the Kemper County Power Plant in Mississippi. The $5.2 billion plant, expected to go into operation later this year, will capture its carbon dioxide emissions and ship them to oil fields in other states, where it will be used in enhanced oil recovery.
Mead, asked about these federal investments in an interview, said federal and state investments show that such technology can work. The question is whether such facilities are commercially viable. EPA has used facilities like Kemper to establish its regulations on new coal plants, which essentially require coal plants to be as efficient as natural gas ones.
The governor said the agency is driving coal from the market by requiring the industry to meet a standard it cannot commercially afford to comply with.
"That is, I think, what EPA is required by law to follow, whether this is commercially viable," the governor said.