CASPER — Gov. Mark Gordon spoke forcefully about combating mankind’s catastrophic heating of the planet at a Friday luncheon before journalists, a big change in rhetoric from an executive office that had a climate change denier at the helm just a few years ago.
Wyoming’s 62-year-old governor, a board member of the state’s Sierra Club chapter in the 1980s, said that on the issue of climate change Wyoming is on the same page as Jay Inslee, Washington state’s Democratic governor and Gordon’s personal friend.
“Jay will talk about how climate change is the single most important issue on the Earth,” Gordon told journalists gathered for the Wyoming Press Association’s 121st annual banquet. “We do not disagree.
“The challenge in this issue is that only through better development and technology — the kind of stuff we’ve worked on for decades here in Wyoming — can we actually start to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”
Gordon suggested that Wyoming could be ground zero for coming up with a climate change solution, through some combination of agricultural and land-use practices combined with carbon dioxide extraction and sequestration techniques.
“Who would think that Wyoming would be the place that would be center stage in addressing this issue?” he said. “I think Wyoming needs to be there.”
Depressed Equality State locales grappling with lost fossil fuel energy jobs, such as Kemmerer, the governor said, could be a wonderful place for a laboratory that could develop innovative technologies that could extract and remove heat-trapping gases from the atmosphere.
Gordon lamented how fossil fuels have earned a reputation as being “inherently bad,” and he said it’s a misconception that the only solution to climate change is to convert electric grids and transportation networks to 100% renewable power.
“It is clear that renewables play an increasingly economic role in the energy supply; it’s also clear that the technologies have improved remarkably,” Gordon said. “So have the technologies for fossil fuels.”
As the nation’s top coal-producing state, Wyoming has not been a leader in climate change policies. It’s one of 13 states with neither voluntary goals nor mandatory renewable energy requirements for electric utilities. Wyoming is dead last in terms of the percentage of energy produced that’s from renewable sources, at just 0.34%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Gordon, like his predecessor, Matt Mead, said he doesn’t support “portfolio standards,” which force utilities to procure a certain percentage of their electricity from wind, solar and other renewable sources. But the governor said he is in favor of a “net negative standard,” which would require a percentage of all new electricity generation to be “carbon negative.”
“I would like to see that,” Gordon said in an interview after his address.
Such technologies, which sequester carbon dioxide absorbed by vegetation, are still being developed, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has identified them as a potential tool to help keep the planet from heating more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Gordon declined to comment when asked about President Trump’s denial of anthropogenic climate change during a Q&A following the address.
“I’m just saying that Wyoming has an opportunity to solve this issue,” the governor said. “And it’s critical. It’s critical for us, it’s critical for our world.”