Western Lawmakers Focus on Regional Energy Collaboration

By Beacon Staff

JACKSON, Wyo. — Lawmakers from many western states agreed Monday that they should consider collaborating on developing technology to capture and store the carbon gas that’s generated from burning fossil fuels.

The state of Wyoming invited lawmakers from around the West to Jackson for an energy and environment symposium that wraps up Tuesday. So far, participants have focused mainly on the challenges facing all of them.

Many lawmakers from energy-exporting states have voiced alarm at the prospect of legislation pending in Congress that would set limits on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Congress is considering a “cap and trade” system that would require companies to buy permits that would allow them to continue to pollute.

“We need to be leading on this frustration on cap and trade, and what effects it will have,” said Alaska state Rep. Charisse Millett, an Anchorage Republican who co-chairs her state’s energy committee.

“Green jobs are nice and warm, and they feel good, and we all want clean energy,” Millett said. “But the fact of the matter is, we’re not going to transition to green overnight. We’re not going to be 100 percent renewable in the United States in one year, or five years or 10 years.”

Many lawmakers have also expressed frustration at the difficulty of building new transmission lines to carry power from the rural states that generate it to the urban states eager to pay for it.

“Transmission is absolutely essential in Montana for development of our natural resources,” said Montana state Sen. Jerry Black, a Republican from Shelby. “In regards to transmission, it’s becoming more critical all the time to get landowner consent, and that’s becoming more of a problem.”

James Roberts is a member of the board of directors of Alpha Natural Resources — one of the nation’s top coal producers. He said all western states need to make regulatory reform a priority. If they don’t, he said, new transmission lines and pipelines won’t be constructed fast enough to meet the nation’s energy demands.

“In my industry — the coal industry — new mining permits can take up to five years or more to be completed,” Roberts said. “And the requirements for approval are subject to inconsistent and constantly changing interpretations of the law depending on the in-place political administration.”

Mark Northam, director of the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources, said he believes the suggestion that western states collaborate on carbon capture and sequestration technology could be the biggest thing to come out of the conference when members decide on their final policy statement on Tuesday.

“The discussion was that we’re all working on pieces of it,” Northam said of carbon capture research. “Sometimes we’re duplicating pieces of it because we’re working separately, so a consortium that was supported by state legislatures would make a tremendous amount of sense.”

Wyoming House Speaker Colin Simpson, R-Cody, sponsored legislation to fund the energy symposium.

“It’s what we expected the process to show,” Simpson said at the end of Monday’s session. “Which is a great deal of diversity and some commonality we can agree on.”

Simpson said it’s important for state leaders to have a chance to listen to each other and talk about issues they all face.

“The more we understand each other, the more we can find those areas of cooperation that will benefit us all,” he said.

States that sent legislators to participate in the event include: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.