Science Notes

Wyoming Allocates Money to Sue Other States over Climate Policies

By Kayla Zacharias

May 2021

State governments have significant authority over themselves in the United States, but the decisions they make often have regional impacts. This is especially true for regulations related to climate, which can have even global consequences. In the American West, where 55% of U.S. coal is mined, many states are beginning to face the reality that they’ll need to scale back production in the near future – and some are doing everything they can to avoid it.

Photo by Carol M. Highsmith on Flickr

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon (R) recently signed a law that sets aside $1.2 million to sue states whose policies hinder Wyoming’s ability to export coal or drive early closures of coal-fired power plants in the state. This includes Colorado, where legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and bolster the production of renewable energy has been passed in recent years. 

Wyoming produces 14 times more energy than it consumes, and its economy relies on exporting excess power to other states. Additionally, some energy utilities operate in several states or have economic interest in regional producers. 

For example, Tri-state, a Westminster-based producer that provides power to several rural electric associations throughout Colorado, has a part interest in Wyoming’s Laramie River Station. In response to Colorado’s 2019 climate action plan, Tri-State committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2030. As a result, they plan to limit power from the Wyoming plant for use in Colorado. 

But Wyoming is the nation’s top coal producer, and some of its legislators are fighting hard to slow the transition to a cleaner energy system. Jaromy Haroldson, a Wyoming state representative who sponsored the bill to sue other states, believes that scaling down the state’s production of carbon-based energy will hurt the their economy and endanger the public because renewable energy sources are not reliable enough yet, he told the Daily Camera

It is relatively common for states to sue one another, but Wyoming’s lawsuits could face legal trouble. Regardless of the outcome of future lawsuits, the coal industry in Wyoming (and across the country) is bound for decline. Natural gas is cheaper to burn than coal for energy production, and renewable energy is on the rise. At best, legal challenges by Wyoming to other states will only delay the inevitable. 

Rather than disregarding the truth about the future of our energy system, groups such as the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University are trying to help states throughout the American West prepare for the impending challenges to come. Their “Repowering the Western Economy” program held regional convenings to support a dialogue between Western states in 2017 and 2018. In 2020, they brought together energy advisors for governors and experts representing energy companies, utilities and advocates, with the goal of providing recommendations to governors in the region. 

As the country transitions away from coal and an increasing number of states pass legislation to support clean energy development, regional communication and planning will become even more critical. Rather than suing over policies that aim to halt climate change, states should plan to cooperate and coordinate their efforts. 

In our biggest coal producing states, legislators should be in discussion with groups who work to support a just transition to a clean energy economy. Like Wyoming, many coal dependent communities in Colorado are concerned about the job loss and decline in tax revenue that will come with the evolution away from coal. In order to make the best decisions for the state, legislators need to know that there is support for their communities and that they won’t be left behind as our energy system moves into the future. 


We Need a Just Transition – Because We Should Abandon Coal, Not Coal Workers (from NRDC)


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