by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Facilitator
In some ways Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming look a lot alike. Parts of each state are sparsely populated prairie, and each state has beautiful mountains and wonderful skiing. Each state is an important fossil fuel producer, has strong winds, and depends on tourists visiting its national parks.
But in other ways these states are very different: Colorado has many more residents and an urban corridor centered around Denver while the largest cities in Montana and Wyoming have only 115,000 and 62,000 residents, respectively. With their assumed more progressive views on environmental issues, Coloradoans who drive to the other two states are often called greenies, and it’s not because of the green color of their license plates.
The governors from the three states are a diverse group:
- Steve Bullock of Montana is an attorney who is a Democratic governor with a 60% approval rating in a highly Republican state.
- Matt Mead, also an attorney, is a Republican governor in a heavily Republican state who has had to fend off primary challenges from even more conservative challengers.
- John Hickenlooper is a popular Democratic governor in a split Democratic/Republican state. He previously was a petroleum geologist and cofounder of the Wynkoop Brewing Company.
Governors Bullock, Hickenlooper, and Mead
Source: Energy Transitions Symposium Website
The three governors convened on Oct. 31 as the keynote lunch panel of the Energy Transition Symposium at Colorado State University. In today’s world of combative politics, it was noteworthy how much agreement existed among the three. All spoke toward needing to look to science and technology to deliver solutions, the need for clean energy solutions, the importance of reasonable rules and regulations, and strong dedication to western states working together to drive a positive future. Here are some key thoughts paraphrased from each speaker:
Matt Mead, Wyoming
- Exporting energy is a key industry to Wyoming. It needs to give consumers in other states what they want, whether it be fossil fuels or renewables.
- Wyoming also relies on tourism, and tourists won’t come if Wyoming doesn’t protect the environment.
- The need to choose between cheap energy and clean energy is a false choice. Both can be achieved.
- There is no future for energy if we don’t take care of the environment.
- We can’t be afraid of where science takes us; it will deliver innovation and new technological solutions, whether those be for clean coal or for renewable energy.
- We need reasonable rules and regulations. The states should address these rules proactively and positively by taking the lead. Our rules and regulations should not depend on whoever is in power in Washington since it is the people of each state who are affected. It makes sense to streamline processes to expedite projects. For instance, a big wind project in Wyoming took 10 years to get permitted.
Steve Bullock, Montana
- Coal units are shutting down. This is a big challenge for a state like Montana that has $100 million payroll in coal jobs and gets about $100 million in revenue from coal companies.
- States must look forward, not backward.
- It’s a false choice to decide between addressing climate change and having energy. Technology and innovation can deliver both.
- The iPhone has had more technological change in five years that the energy industry. We need to apply this thinking to energy solutions.
- States must lead – we’ll either be driving the bus or under the bus.
John Hickenlooper, Colorado
- Western governors are partners as regional solutions work better than state-by-state solutions.
- We can achieve systems that are as reliable as current systems, the same cost or cheaper, and as clean as possible.
- Low gas prices help provide cycling necessary to integrate renewables.
- There is no alternative to conflicts except to find solutions by talking through issues with all involved. For instance, Colorado is one of the first states to require producers to capture fugitive methane emissions, and it was achieved through a collaborative process between producers and environmentalists.
- Electric vehicles are coming; we need to be ahead of that change.
The governors discussed areas in which the varied states in the West have worked together to find solutions. Examples included:
- an agreement to build out an electric vehicle charging station network across seven states
- the sage grouse management plan to protect populations while avoiding an endangered species listing
- collaboratively working to find an acceptable route for a transmission line being built to move Wyoming wind power to California
Listening to these three leaders gave hope that we can indeed work toward cooperative energy solutions rather than succumb to divisive politics.