GILLETTE — Fossil fuels have been targeted by environmental groups and political policy for years, and things could get worse as President Joe Biden’s administration works through its priorities. That’s why it’s important that lawmakers, the state of Wyoming and fossil fuel industries work together and push back.
That was the message Republican U.S. Reps. Liz Cheney and Bruce Westerman, who represents Arkansas’ 4th Congressional District, had for representatives from the energy sector during a roundtable discussion at the Integrated Test Center near Gillette last week.
“We know what a war on the West looks like. We saw it under the Obama administration,” Cheney said. “This looks like it could be even worse.”
Cheney said visits like the one to Campbell County are important to “make sure people understand how much is happening here and what we’re doing and what’s possible,” especially with coal on the decline.
Westerman said the work and research that goes on in Campbell County and Wyoming, particularly with coal, oil and gas, is “greatly unappreciated” in much of the rest of the country.
“We know the country can’t run without (fossil fuels), and it shouldn’t be a goal to try to get the country to run without them,” Cheney said. “We have to make sure that we’re continuing to provide the power the country needs.”
Cheney and Westerman met with people in the energy industry to hear their concerns regarding the Biden administration.
Scott Durgin with Peabody Energy said that coal’s customer base is continually shrinking because of political pressure and environmental regulations.
“We don’t survive if we don’t have customers,” Durgin said.
Marc Ostrem, vice president of mines and power delivery for Black Hills Energy, said it’s “getting harder and harder” to find someone to “give us a dollar.” Increasingly, banks are refusing to lend money to companies in the fossil fuel industry.
Cheney said the gun industry has faced the same problem and legislation has been proposed to make the practice of squeezing out industries that way illegal.
Eric Dille, vice president of government relations for EOG Resources, said it’s going to be difficult to get approval to drill new wells.
“The conditions of approval are going to change now based on the social cost of carbon and the social cost of methane,” Dille said.
Another worry is that existing leases won’t be approved when they come up for renewal, he said.
Cheney said it’s important to make sure Democrats and “the Biden administration (don’t) have an open runway” to do whatever they please.
Cheney said that during his presidential campaign, Biden “lied and said, ‘I’m not going to eliminate fossil fuels and fracking.’
“The first thing he did when he got into office was issue executive orders targeting the fossil fuel industry,” she said.
One thing that has some people worried is Biden’s “30 by 30” initiative, which commits to a goal of conserving at least 30% of the country’s public lands and waterways by 2030. It’s part of Biden’s executive order aimed at “tackling the climate crisis.”
State Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, said the restrictive policies are a matter of life and death for Wyoming, where 48% of the land is owned by the federal government. Westerman said “30 by 30” would affect Western states much more than those in the east.
“The eastern U.S. doesn’t have anything to give, and they don’t have federal minerals,” Driskill said. “Should (the government) move in here, tie up federal minerals and federal grounds, we are de facto a non-state at that point.”
Besides dealing a blow to the coal, oil and gas industries, it also would affect agriculture producers who use federal land for grazing, as well as the timber industry, Driskill said.
It’s unclear how soon the federal government plans to move with that, Westerman said, adding that “they’ve been very vague on what it means.”
“If they’re talking about locking up 30% of the country in wilderness area, that’s just plain stupid,” Westerman said. “They’re untouched. It’s bad for the environment, it’s bad for the economy and it’s going to be ultimately very bad for our country.”
“We have to continue to send the message that the people who are closest to the land know best (and) are the best stewards of it,” Cheney said.
The war on coal, Westerman said, is more of a political issue than an environmental one, and Democrats “demonize fossil fuels and ignore the environmental costs of other sources of energy.”
In 2020, Westerman introduced the Trillion Trees Act, which had a goal of planting 1 trillion trees globally in an effort to lower the amount of carbon in the air. He said it got pushback from Democrats.
“The left used to like trees until the Republicans started talking about how good they are and the science behind them,” he said. “We’re on the right side of science, we’ve just got to keep pounding the drum and pushing forward with it.”
It will be an uphill battle because Democrats have a majority in the House, Cheney said, but things could change in the 2022 midterm elections.
Between now and then, “it’s all about political pressure, it’s all about making sure they’re accountable for these decisions that are going to destroy the West,” Cheney said, adding that Democrats in districts that rely heavily on fossil fuels could be vulnerable.
“Their constituents are going to have a hard time sending those people back understanding the dangers, the damage the policies have done,” she said.
“The American people are going to see through the empty promises of the Democrats in the last election,” Westerman said.
It’s not going to be easy, Cheney noted.
“I wish we could say we’re going to get this turned around, but they’re going to push hard,” she said. “We just have to fight back harder.”