CASPER — A proposed bill to set aside $1.2 million for Wyoming to sue other states divesting from coal received a warm welcome from lawmakers at a committee meeting on Friday morning.
The House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee voted unanimously to advance the drafted legislation to the floor.
House Bill 207 would give Wyoming’s governor and attorney general the money to challenge actions taken by other states that “impede the export of Wyoming coal or the continued operation of Wyoming’s coal-fired electric generation facilities, including early retirements of those facilities.”
Wyoming is the country’s leading producer of thermal coal used to make electricity. But utilities have gradually transitioned to cheaper natural gas and renewable energy sources to replace coal and save ratepayers money.
In a span of less than three months, two Powder River Basin coal mines announced plans to close due to worsening market conditions. Coal production in last year’s final quarter dropped 22 percent across the basin.
Several states have instituted aggressive goals to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change, primarily through the investment in renewable energy.
“We, as the Legislature, would like to give our blessing as well as a direction to the executive branch to bring a lawsuit ... against any state that would breach the Commerce Clause of Wyoming,” said Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, the bill’s sponsor. “Why is this important? Because if we don’t start fighting back, we will be dictated by not only the federal government but other states as to where we can move and where we can go and power generation in our state. “
The bill has attracted nearly 40 co-sponsors in both the House and Senate.
The Wyoming Mining Association and Wyoming Rural Electric Association and the governor’s office expressed support for the bill.
“What I think is important is that it really gives us the option,” Randall Luthi, the chief energy adviser for Gov. Mark Gordon, stated during testimony. “Litigation is just one of ... the tools the state of Wyoming has to attempt to make sure that we have a reliable grid system.”
Wyoming is already wrapped up in a lawsuit against the state of Washington over a coal export terminal.
The lawsuit alleges Washington unconstitutionally stopped the development of a proposed coal port, and inhibited the landlocked states from shipping their coal to global markets.
Wyoming, joined by Montana, argued the state of Washington violated the commerce clause and foreign commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution by inhibiting the export of a commodity.
Wyoming’s attorney general filed the original action in the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2020.
But the Trump administration left office before weighing in on a lawsuit, dimming the states’ hope to have the case heard by the Supreme Court. What’s more, the owner of the coal port, Lighthouse Resources, also filed for bankruptcy in December and has been unable to find a new buyer for the terminal project.