Gov. Mark Gordon repeated his call for a carbon-negative future Tuesday, beating the drum of carbon capture and sequestration, and championing a role for Wyoming in all parts of the nation’s power grid, as he took questions from a Jackson Hole audience.
That audience, ranging between 50 and 100 people, assembled on the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts lawn, chatted with the Republican governor before he spoke, and then asked questions about everything from energy to cryptocurrency and high school sports.
After starting his remarks with a moment of silence for Jackson native Rylee McCollum, a young Marine who was killed in the line of duty at the Kabul airport, Gordon used the intimate setting to promote his vision of Wyoming’s future. The governor mixed in thoughts on local issues, with his talk coming roughly a year before his presumed re-election campaign.
He did not touch on Jackson Hole’s housing woes — nobody asked about them at the 9:30 a.m. Tuesday forum — but the governor did say he opposed mask mandates “from on high” in favor of local control. He said he agreed that state lands in counties other than Teton County should be eyed for monetization, rather than just relying on its properties in Jackson Hole.
And, talking about the ever-increasing waves of tourism in the Tetons, Gordon said that national park traffic in and out of Jackson could be managed “without imposing some sort of a permitting system.” He did not say what the alternative would be, and he advocated for efforts to bring tourism to other parts of the state, not just Teton County.
But, partly because of the audience’s many questions about the environment, wildfires and climate change, Gordon frequently returned to his stump speech about carbon capture and sequestration, and Wyoming’s energy policy.
He pushed carbon capture as part of an alternative to what he called “a national psyche that is saying ‘All we need to do is stop burning fossil fuels, and somehow, our climate will resolve itself.’ ”
“That’s a passive approach to trying to resolve the climate issue,” Gordon said. “How do we make sure that we limit carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? How can we remove carbon dioxide in the atmosphere so that we can address climate change aggressively?”
The answer, he suggested, is calling for continuing investments in all types of energy — renewables, fossil fuels and nuclear — and pulling carbon dioxide, the planet-warming byproduct of burning fossil fuels, from the atmosphere. The governor said that could be done through carbon capture, which pulls carbon dioxide out of smoke stacks and such, direct air capture, which pulls the compound out of ambient air, and sequestration, which stores captured carbon so it’s not re-released into the atmosphere.
Gordon suggested that captured carbon could be used in manufacturing processes and farming, rather than just being stored underground.
State Rep. Mike Yin, a Democrat from Jackson who attended Gordon’s address, wasn’t sold.
“I don’t understand how carbon capture can be profitable for any company to build out,” he said. “Unless we are just paying to do it as a government, then yes, we could pay to remove carbon from the air.
“But as a market solution,” Yin continued, “if carbon from the ground is always going to be cheaper than pulling carbon from the air, why would anyone pay to pull carbon from the air?”
Gordon spoke on a day when smoke from wildfires in neighboring states obscured the Tetons and cast haze over Snow King Mountain behind the crowd.
Fire management and climate change, which scientists say is impacting the size and scale of forest fires in the West, was on attendees’ minds.
Asked what he would do about creating a more comprehensive plan for managing fires in the American West, Gordon said he’d been on conference calls with President Biden and other governors about the issue. On the calls, Republicans were talking about forest management and Democrats about climate change. He said he falls in the forest management camp, but said the conversations had been positive and could result in steps forward on a plan that’s not just fighting fires “when they start.”
“It is about what do we do about regeneration? What do we do about invasive species on the land? What do we do about making communities more fire-hardened?” Gordon said.
He acknowledged that the West is dealing with an “emergency,” citing critically low runoff levels, but he questioned some of the technologies being pursued to cut emissions. He questioned the visual impact of wind turbines on Wyoming landscapes, and encouraged consideration of the “carbon cost” — essentially the amount of carbon dioxide that goes into producing renewable fuels and technology like electric vehicles — over the lifetime of the technologies.
People on both sides of the political spectrum appeared happy with Gordon’s talk.
Candra Day, a board member of the Jackson Hole Climate Action Collective, came away feeling relatively good about his climate positions.
“I thought it was very positive that he spoke so much about a carbon negative and a carbon neutral future for Wyoming, although he stopped short of really making a statement about coal,” Day said.
Day said she’d recently watched Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speak with the Commonwealth Club of California.
“She was much less climate friendly than he was,” Day said. “And I thought, well, great, [Gordon]’s making progress. He’s pushing us a little bit.”
Bob Culver, of the Jackson Hole Tea Party, said he felt that Gordon’s visit to Jackson was “100% political,” but that he didn’t mind that. And, he appreciated Gordon questioning the “carbon cost” of technologies like Tesla batteries.
“That’s the right thing to do,” Culver said. “Because he pointed out, ‘It’s a good idea — but.’ ”
Culver felt that Gordon’s answers were a mix of direct — and not.
“He did a very, very good dance around some of the issues,” Culver said.
The governor didn’t make his stance clear on medical marijuana, for example, and didn’t say whether he’d support open primaries after he was asked about them.
“But,” Culver said, “he hit head on some of the other issues like the Tesla batteries,” one of the technologies he used to highlight carbon cost.
Joan Goldfarb said she was happy to see Gordon bring local issues into the mix, particularly tourism and traffic.
“That’s a big bugaboo for me,” she said, acknowledging but not necessarily taking issue with the fact that the governor didn’t present solutions.
“He mentioned what has been done and what is ongoing, but as for a flat-out answer, I think that would be hard for just the governor, because he’s got to go through the Legislature,” Goldfarb said.
State Rep. Andy Schwartz, another Democrat from Teton County, said he thought the forum was a great opportunity for “people just to have a conversation with the governor.”
“In most states, you can’t do that,” he said.
And, while nothing was scheduled, when Schwartz asked Gordon whether he would return for another forum, the governor’s answer was unequivocal.
“Absolutely,” Gordon said.
Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Liz Cheney is a Wyoming senator. She is the state's lone delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. — Eds.