Western Governors Call For Regulatory Flexibility, Reject False Choice Of Clean Environment Versus Energy Development
Three Western governors discussed a wide range of energy-related topics Tuesday, acknowledging the need for regulatory flexibility at the federal level and embracing technology as a way to avoid the false choice between a clean environment and using the energy resources each state possessed.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, joined Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, both Democrats, to outline how states could work together on energy issues from production to transmission, and to calling for more state primacy on regulation and streamlining federal permitting processes that hold up energy development in their states.
“Whether it’s a Republican in the White House or a Democrat in the White House, I think the leadership on rules and regulations should come from the states,” Mead said.
That leadership comes in the form of pioneering how states can maintain responsible energy development without having to wait for the federal government to step in, as well as embracing innovation and technology, according to Mead.
“The state of Wyoming was the first state to have carbon capture sequestration laws on the books, and one of the first states to address fracking rules in the country,” Mead said. States must ask themselves, “What are we doing proactively?”
“For energy to succeed you have to succeed in the environment as well,” Mead continued. “No one should have a better incentive in protecting their own back yard than the people who live there.”
The governors were speaking at an energy conference hosted by Colorado State University.
“We have to have our feet firmly planted in today but not be afraid on either side that tomorrow’s going to look a lot different,” Bullock said. “Technology is a part of that.”
Bullock said his state has abundant energy sources and arbitrarily limiting the use of one in favor of another, without listening to the people in the communities, was unacceptable.
“Anybody that says, ‘we’re going to address climate, or we’re going to continue having some energy production from coal, but we can’t do both,’ I fundamentally think that’s a false choice,” Bullock said.
Streamlining federal permitting under the National Environmental Policy Act, Mead said, was critical for Western states.
“We’ve got to do better whether it’s minerals or renewables, we’ve got to have a better process in line,” Mead said. The federal impediments to energy development apply to all sources of energy available in the West.
“If you want to have that renewable energy, or you want to have traditional energy through coal or natural gas, you’ve got to have that process streamlined,” he said.
“But in my mind, for Wyoming as I look at it now—oil, gas, coal, uranium—are going to be part of the mix for a long period of time,” Mead said, despite opposition from anti-extraction activists.
“I don’t think of it [energy] as bipartisan, I think of it as trans-partisan,” Hickenlooper said. “Western governors are actively working on some of the hardest problems there are” within the energy sphere.
Hickenlooper said that emerging technologies could coexist in order to achieve low cost, reliable energy, and noted the important role played by the oil and gas industry, especially in the West.
“Couple that with the inexpensive natural gas that is crucial in cycling on and cycling off renewables,” Hickenlooper said, and states can have robust, responsible energy production that doesn’t fit an either-or scenario.
From addressing methane emissions to building energy infrastructure, Hickenlooper said, states should exchange and adopt best practices.
“Those are the kinds of challenges that we’re only going to be able to solve by working together,” Hickenlooper said. “These aren’t that solutions that are going to happen in one state or another, it’s going to be dependent upon us being able to work with each other.”
With Colorado at 36 percent federal land, Montana at 29 percent, and Wyoming at 48 percent, the conversation quickly turned to how states manage energy projects within their borders, including building transmission lines, and the difficulties of federal permitting.
“This is every bit as serious a place for conflict as anything, in terms of coal or oil and gas,” Hickenlooper said, in addition to the need for transmission. People within the states cherish their private, state, and public lands, and there is “no real alternative but to sit down with interested parties and make sure that we are able to talk through the conflict.”
Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) said that those opposing projects on others’ lands fell under a term his Center For the New Energy Economy dubbed “NIMSBY”—“Not in my second back yard.”
Building consensus and working with communities is preferable to top-down, federal plans, according to Hickenlooper.