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Wyoming sues to stop new Biden administration coal pollution rules

Anna Robertson, associate research scientist in atmospheric sciences in the UW College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Gov. Mark Gordon, EPA Administrator Michael Regan and UW School of Energy Resources Executive Director Holly Krutka took part in energy research discussions at the University of Wyoming on Aug. 9, 2023. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

By Dustin Bleizeffer

Wyoming joined more than 20 states this week in filing two lawsuits in federal court to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules to reduce greenhouse gas and other harmful pollutants emitted from coal- and natural gas-fired power plants.

The lawsuits allege the EPA has overstepped its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from electrical power plants when it issued four sweeping rules in April, including one that mandates a 90% reduction of carbon dioxide at the smokestack by 2032.

Although the EPA’s emission reduction rules and 2032 deadline closely match Wyoming’s own self-imposed mandate that requires some coal-fired power plants in the state to install carbon capture technologies, Gov. Mark Gordon said the EPA and the Biden administration have simply gone too far.

“The only goal appears to be destroying Wyoming’s fossil fuel industry by further burdening our power plants, increasing costs to consumers and threatening the stability of our nation’s electrical grid,” Gordon said Thursday in a prepared statement.

In one lawsuit filed this week, Wyoming joined 24 other states in alleging the EPA’s new rules ignore a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding the federal government’s authority over limiting planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions for power plants.

Coal trains pass under the conveyor belt for the Dry Fork Station power plant. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

In a second lawsuit, Wyoming and 22 other states alleged that the EPA’s new rules unlawfully target coal power plant emissions without properly justifying the rules’ health benefits or economic ramifications to coal-reliant communities.

“The Biden administration’s EPA seems determined to use unlawful rulemaking to continue its attacks on Wyoming’s core industries,” Gordon said.

What’s at stake

Wyoming supplies about 40% of the coal that’s used to generate electricity in the U.S., and the industry has long served as a major employer and revenue source for the state. Coal mining contributed some $650 million in taxes, royalties and fees in 2019, for example, and employed more than 5,000 workers, according to the Wyoming Mining Association.

Much of that coal revenue is dedicated to funding Wyoming’s K-12 education.

Wyoming has lost nearly half its coal production since 2008, and a lot of the revenues that come with it. Coal and electrical power market analysts say the EPA’s new rules would accelerate the downward trajectory of the state’s coal industry, resulting in layoffs and mine closures even before the rules go into effect in 2032. 

Some coal mines in the state already face potentially extinction-level headwinds, even without the EPA’s new rules, as utilities continue to rely more on natural gas and renewable sources of energy. 

Wyoming’s chances

The EPA’s “power plant” rules are aimed at making good on President Joe Biden’s promise to address human-caused climate change, as well as reduce illness and other negative environmental impacts from coal pollution, according to the agency. 

EPA Administrator Michael Regan and Gov. Mark Gordon visited the Energy Innovation Center at the University of Wyoming on August 9, 2023. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

EPA Administrator Michael Regan, who visited Gordon in Wyoming last year, also noted that his agency crafted the new pollution reduction rules to align with assertions — including from Wyoming — that carbon capture technologies are a viable path to maintaining coal power plants. 

The federal agency, even if the extent of its authority is under question, has a legal obligation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, according to Shannon Anderson, an attorney for the Sheridan-based landowner advocacy group Powder River Basin Resource Council.

“It’s been proven for quite some time that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas pollutant and dangerous to public health and safety, and therefore it is a regulated pollutant,” Anderson told WyoFile on Thursday. “It’s also a matter of hypocrisy for the governor’s office and industry to, on the one hand, claim that our utilities in the state need to look at carbon capture and charge ratepayers for that research and development, and on the other hand, challenge EPA’s assertion that it can be done. I mean, those positions can’t be reconciled.”

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.