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Wyoming gov disappointed for coal after election

Associated Press Modified: November 7, 2012 at 3:30 pm •  Published: November 7, 2012

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said Wednesday he's disappointed in the re-election of President Barack Obama because he believes Republican challenger Mitt Romney had a better grasp of the importance of domestic energy production, particularly coal.

Wyoming, the nation's leading coal-producing state, draws most state income from energy production taxes. However, the state is projecting essentially flat revenues over coming years in part because of sagging demand for coal.

Mead, a Republican, is pushing ahead with 8 percent state agency budget cuts as he prepares to propose a supplemental budget bill to state lawmakers next month. He said he plans to trim his own office budget by 10 percent.

"It's a long list why I think (Romney) would have been better for Wyoming," Mead said. "As I viewed the presidential election, I saw that Congress hasn't passed a budget. Our debt and deficit continue to go up, unemployment remains too high. And I don't think the current administration has a full appreciation of what the value of affordable American energy is to the economy."

Mead said he had been impressed by Romney's emphasis on a sound energy policy, including his recognition of the value of coal.

Wyoming's in-house state fiscal analysts last month projected that coal production in the state is on pace to decline 8.7 percent, or about 40 million tons, in 2012. While coal from the Powder River Basin has a history of low-cost energy production, the analysts reported that it faces increased competition from natural gas while older power plants in the nation face increasing federal environmental regulations.

Federal figures released this summer projected that the share of U.S. electricity coming from coal was expected to dip below 40 percent this year, the lowest level since the government began collecting data in 1949. Four years ago, it was 50 percent, and by the end of this decade, it is likely to be near 30 percent.

Coal stocks fell Wednesday with Obama's re-election. His administration has proposed new environmental regulations on coal-fired power plants while Romney had proposed rescinding some restrictions on emissions.

Mead credited Interior Secretary Ken Salazar with releasing some coal leases in Wyoming in recent years, resulting in increased sales. But Mead said he doesn't believe the administration has done enough.

"The fact is, it's a fuel source that allows us to produce electricity at a very competitive rate," Mead said. "That is not only good for manufacturing within this country, and the jobs that are attached to it, but also it helps keep us globally competitive when a major cost driver for industry is energy costs."

The Sierra Club and other groups have pushed to try to block federal coal leases in the Powder River Basin on the grounds that burning coal mined there would contribute to global warming. The groups have failed to get traction in the courts so far.

Connie Wilbert, field organizer for the Sierra Club in Wyoming, said Wednesday her group fundamentally supports Obama's approach.

"We certainly recognize here in Wyoming the role that fossil fuels, and the extraction of those fuels, coal and oil, play and how important they are to our state economy right now," Wilbert said. "We live here, we understand that.

"But we also think that these extractive industries need to be carefully regulated to protect our environment, our clean water, clean air and wildlife and the safety of our workers," Wilbert said. "And we believe that President Obama is more likely to help us gain and maintain those kinds of important regulations over these industries."

Mead also said he disagrees with Obama's signature health care overhaul, the Affordable Care Act. Mead led Wyoming to join other states in a federal lawsuit challenging the law that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling this summer upholding most of the law.

Mead says he intends to decide by next month whether to recommend to state lawmakers that the state expand eligibility for Medicaid, a joint state-federal health program.


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