By Jeremy Deaton
There's the Wyoming you see on postcards—the snow-dusted mountains and caramel-colored prairies where movie stars build their second homes. But there's another Wyoming—the one that powers America's homes and businesses. The Cowboy State churns out more coal than all of Appalachia, and it's home to some of the strongest winds on the continent. The Rocky Mountains funnel air across flat, open prairies, producing winds that rival the most powerful ocean gales.
In Carbon County, Wyoming—so named for its abundant reserves of coal—conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz is building the country's largest wind farm. Its 1,000 turbines could generate enough electricity to power every home in Los Angeles and San Francisco—electricity that will be shipped to California by way of a brand new 700-mile transmission line.
This map shows the average wind speed 30 meters above the ground. Wyoming sees exceptionally strong winds at this altitude.NREL
Anschutz, who owns the conservative news outlets The Weekly Standard and The Washington Examiner, has given millions to Republican politicians. But, despite his political leanings, and the promise of hundreds of construction jobs in Carbon County, his project—and others like it—have faced persistent headwinds in the Republican-dominated state legislature.
Earlier this year, legislators tried to prevent Wyoming utilities from selling wind power. The bill went nowhere, but it points to an undercurrent of hostility toward wind. Wyoming is currently the only state to tax wind power, and legislators have pushed to raise the wind tax from $1 per megawatt hour to $3 or $5. Anschutz's business fought both proposed tax hikes, which died in committee.
Republican legislator Mike Madden, who championed these measures, made his feelings clear. "These wind guys," he said, "they feel that they are just too good to be taxed."
Madden, like his colleagues, is trying to fill a hole in the state budget. Wyoming has no income tax. Oil, gas and coal royalties supply most of the state's revenue. Now, coal is in decline. Consumption is waning, and workers are losing their jobs. This has produced a budget shortfall for which there is no easy fix.
Under the current system, Wyoming effectively imports its tax revenue. Most coal is shipped to power plants out of state, meaning ratepayers in Texas, California and elsewhere pay the tax on coal. If you buy electricity from a power plant anywhere in the U.S. that burns Wyoming coal, you are helping to put Wyoming teachers in Wyoming schools and lay Wyoming asphalt on Wyoming roads.
In recent years, falling demand for coal has starved the state of essential revenue. Legislators need to fill the budget gap, but there is little interest in imposing an income tax. So they are slashing expenditures and looking to other sources of revenue.
Together, Wyoming's powerful winds and budget woes have produced a peculiar cast of characters—in Anschutz, a conservative media magnate pushing for renewable energy, and in Madden, a pugnacious libertarian furiously trying to raise taxes.
Madden says he harbors no ill feelings toward wind. His motives are ideological. Asked if he felt a responsibility to protect coal jobs—which are fleeing the state in droves—he said, "I'm not interested in picking one of our resources and protecting it. That obviously is not my philosophy at all. I want the free market to pick it, not to have government politicians pick it."
The Black Thunder coal mine in Wyoming. Max Phillips
Madden is nothing if not consistent, and his approach to tax policy would strike many as reasonable. But experts warn against raising the wind tax at a time when the state is trying to attract developers and create new jobs.
"Wyoming is perceived by many wind developers to be kind of anti-wind," said University of Wyoming economist Robert Godby. "Suddenly the state is suggesting that we might raise the tax by four or five times? That's not conducive to economic development. Tax uncertainty is almost as bad as having high taxes."
Wind is a multi-billion dollar opportunity for Wyoming. Anschutz's wind farm and transmission line come with an $8 billion price tag. Renewable energy developer Viridis Eolia is building a $3 billion wind project. And Rocky Mountain Power is spending $3 billion in Wyoming on another wind farm and transmission line.
Godby fears the state's perceived hostility toward wind could ward off future projects: "Imagine you're in the board room of a major wind developer, and you're suggesting a billion-dollar investment, and you say I'm going to put it in New Mexico or Nevada or Wyoming. The board might say, 'Well, we're not putting it in Wyoming.'"
Notably, Wyoming's attitudes toward wind are about more than just money. Many in the Cowboy State see turbines as a blight on the landscape. Wyoming is defined by its jagged mountains and open prairies. Wind farms threaten to mar its most treasured vistas.
"You can be camping on the plains, maybe a sleeping bag rolled out on the ground, not even a tent over your head, and you can feel like you are on the same plains that Native Americans have experienced for millennia," said Godby. "But then you turn around and look behind you, and the entire horizon might be red blinking lights from the wind turbines, and those really kind of infuriate people."
A Wyoming wind farm. Penny Higgins
A wind developer, who asked to remain anonymous, recalled a trip to the state capital: "One legislator in particular said, 'We don't want more wind. We want you to burn more coal.' They say, 'I hate wind. I hate seeing those turbines. They're killing our landscape, and I just don't like it.'"
Of course, attitudes may change. Wind turbines, now regarded as an eyesore, may come to represent industry, security and prosperity. To that end, Godby said legislators should leverage tax policy to attract more wind jobs.
"We could say, 'Hey, If you build a wind facility, and the manufacturing of some of those components occurs in Wyoming, we will give you a tax break,'" he explained. This would draw new wind projects and manufacturing outfits, delivering a wealth of jobs and tax revenue. Wind energy, said Godby, "is the biggest opportunity presenting itself to the state."
Wyoming finds itself in an unusual place. Nationwide, the shift to clean energy will likely create millions of jobs, but there will be winners and losers. Wind-rich Iowa will cash in on demand for cheap, low-carbon power, while coal-dependent West Virginia stands to lose more jobs than it gains. Wyoming straddles both sides of the energy divide.
Coal from Wyoming's Powder River Basin is among the cheapest and purest around. Decades from now, when the final shipment of American coal heads to the last remaining coal-fired power plant, it will depart from a Wyoming mine. Along the way, that train will pass some of the most productive wind farms in the country.
How fast will the future come? It's hard to say. Reflecting on the fate of wind in Wyoming, Rep. Madden conceded, "It's a resource in a like manner to coal and natural gas and so on." He then paused for a moment before returning to his favorite talking point: "I just think that it's fair not to pick a favorite."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.