When Congress heads back to Washington in 2015, one of their first agenda items will be to block, delay or otherwise damage the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. With the new Republican majority in both houses, and the GOP takeover of key energy committee positions, doing so could be a real possibility come January.
For coal states like West Virginia, Illinois, Montana and Wyoming, this fight matters; the Clean Power Plan aims to reduce emissions, in part, by shifting electricity production from coal to other sources like solar and natural gas. Right now, nearly 40 percent of American electricity comes from coal. If demand were to go down, the effect on these states’ economies could be substantial.
Take Wyoming, for example. To say coal is important is an understatement. Miners at the Cordero Rojo Mine outside of Gillette, Wyoming wear stickers on their hard hats with the words “COAL, GUNS, FREEDOM,” on them. Here’s why: According to Wyoming’s Economic Analysis Division, income from mineral extraction makes up nearly 75 percent of the state’s budget. WHOA! Furthermore, about one third of that comes from coal. That’s how important coal is to the state. It isn’t just a job or a way of life… it’s practically everything.
At Jake’s Tavern, a popular bar in Gillette, coal miners and locals gather on Thursday evenings for a weekly pool tournament. I talked to many people about the EPA’s proposed regulations and I received many answers. The general feeling, though, was this: We want to protect our environment, but the EPA should really stay out of our business. Brandon Allee, who has worked in almost every sector of energy development put it like this:
“Honestly, the EPA makes it a whole lot harder for most of us to do our jobs. My great-great-grandfather settled most of this area. I’ll tell you what, he would have shot half the EPA administrators. But that was what they did back then.”
There is also a sense that outsiders do not understand how things work. With its sub-zero winters, tiny population, and decades-long love affair with energy, Wyoming is unique.
“Our state does not need to be regulated by somebody from another state,” said Shawn Kistler. “It is better to have the people who live in a state regulate it themselves. And just like anything else, keep it small, it will regulate itself better. And you won’t get too much bureaucratic bullshit.”
It is within this context that Wyoming Senator John Barrasso will fight the EPA when Congress reconvenes in January. He is chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, whose mission is to “….advance Republican policies by providing positions on legislation, floor debate, and votes,” according to the committee’s website.
So what is the GOP’s strategy in 2015? Senator Barrasso would not get into specifics, but reiterated his stance:
“The EPA, in my opinion, has now come out with more and more regulations which make energy more expensive. The costs are real, the benefits are theoretical.”
The best bet for Republicans would likely be to defund the plan by attaching riders to important legislation. Ultimately, though, President Obama would have veto power and it is unlikely that Congress would have the two-thirds majority vote needed in each house to override a presidential veto.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story misstated the time period during which Wyoming filed 12 lawsuits against the EPA. That correct time period is between 2000 and 2014. We regret the error.