North Antelope Rochelle coal trains


Cue the outrage!

A hidden nugget from  the past week’s news: a state legislature has approved a plan to transfer $1 billion in taxpayer funds to private companies in an energy sector that can’t compete in the free market, and are now begging for public handouts.  Hmmm …. Must be some liberal state helping new green industries, right? Another Solyndra?  Where is Sean Hannity when we need him? Time for some thunderous outrage and cries for public investigations! Has anyone seen Papa Bear?

But what if we told you that the industry with its hand out for public subsidies is coal; the state is Wyoming; and the money is earmarked for export facilities that would be built in other states, specifically Washington and Oregon.  Somehow, the reaction from major media is … crickets.

Clark Williams-Derry at Sightline has a brilliant post on this plan to promote what he calls Socialism for Coal.  We excerpted some of the best stuff, but you should really read the whole thing. 

You can’t make this stuff up. The Wyoming state legislature—ostensibly one of the most conservative deliberative bodies in North America—has embraced full-on socialism for the coal industry.

A budget amendment [now approved by] the Wyoming legislature [grants] the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority (WIA) the power to pursue projects like coal ports in other states…The bill also provides $1 billion in bonds to the WIA for the express purpose of pursuing infrastructure projects, like coal ports.

So the allegedly die-hard conservatives in the Wyoming legislature want to commit a billion dollars in bonding authority, backed up by financial resources of the state government, specifically to build coal export facilities that the private sector itself won’t fund. And even though they residents of Wyoming would ultimately bear the risk from a failed infrastructure project, they even want to the bond money out of state, to build projects in Oregon or Washington.

If that isn’t a prime example of what conservatives profess to hate, I don’t know what is.

It is a core talking point for those who oppose renewable energy that the government “shouldn’t be picking winners and losers.” This mantra conveniently ignores the global subsidies for fossil fuels, which the International Monetary fund has conservatively estimated to exceed $1.9 trillion annually.  It also goes out the window when their friends in the coal industry coming begging for a bail out. 

To their credit, the only legislators who voted against this proposal were tea party conservatives who objected to taxpayers playing the sucker for private profits.  Three cheers for “Green Tea!”

Several weeks ago, I posed the question of how coal companies with no profits, plummeting stock prices, mounting debt, and crippling cost of capital hope to finance coal export terminals that will cost far more than their net worth.  The answer is now clear – they hope taxpayers will foot the bill.

This really does call for outrage!

Ross Macfarlane's picture
, Climate Solutions

Ross managed Climate Solutions’ Business Partnership Program until spring 2016, helping to build support in the region’s corporate community for strong climate and energy policy and private investment in solutions. He is active in promoting strong climate and energy policy on a state and federal level.  He also led Climate Solutions’ Sustainable Advanced Fuels Program, which is accelerating the adoption of low-carbon alternatives to petroleum fuels in transportation. Ross also led Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest, the first stakeholder roadmap for cleaner fuels to power the next generation of flight. Ross was selected by business and community leaders as a "Pivotal Leader," which recognizes a few individuals who have the skills and experience to drive the region’s clean energy economy.

Ross brings more than 30 years of experience working on public policy and environmental issues. He was a partner at Preston Gates & Ellis (now K&L Gates) where he managed the environmental law practice and represented a wide range of public and private clients. He was recognized as a “Superlawyer” in the areas of Environmental, Transportation and Public law. He also served on the management team for an agency working to build urban mass transit. A Northwest native, Ross is a graduate of Pomona College and University of Washington School of Law. He is passionate about climbing, hiking, skiing, and anything outdoors.