Skip to content

Mr. President, I rise today to talk about something very dear to me, and to so many of my fellow Wyomingites.  This Administration has made no secret about its continuous efforts to whittle away at America’s coal industry.  Well, very sadly, last week, those efforts resulted in unprecedented layoffs as two of Wyoming’s biggest coal mines let go of 15 percent of their workforces.  Diana and I were heartbroken to see 456 miners suddenly out of work. 

I know the suffering of 456 people suddenly out of work may not sound so bad in a place like California or New York, but in Wyoming, whole communities feel that kind of impact.  Folks I talked to in Wyoming are depressed and angry, and it’s because the energy industries they support and rely upon have for too long been the target of bad federal policies. 

People have been mining coal in Wyoming since the mid-1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the industry really took off.  The Clean Air Act of 1970 implemented the original restrictions on sulfer dioxide emissions, and suddenly, the low sulfer content, clean coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin was in high demand.  Wyoming went from producing just under 2% of our nation’s coal in the late 1960’s to producing 9% by the end of the 70s.  That number rose to 31% percent by the end of the 1990s. 

By the end of 2014, 39% of the United States’ electricity was generated by coal, according to the Energy Information Administration.  Forty percent of that coal was generated in Wyoming.  That year, Wyoming’s 20 mines directly employed over 6,500 workers, who earn an average salary of nearly $84,000 – almost twice the statewide average.  The industry indirectly employs tens of thousands more contractors in jobs that support the coal industry.  The coal industry paid over $1.14 billion to Wyoming in taxes, royalties and other revenue in 2014.  That’s money used for schools, roads, and community colleges across Wyoming. 

So with all this affordable energy, with all these well-paying jobs, how did Wyoming find itself losing jobs last week?  How did Wyoming wind up with the fastest growing unemployment rate in the nation?  Well, I recently ran across this 2011 editorial cartoon that I think helps explain how this Administration is bringing down the coal industry. 

We just need to replace the tattoo on the arm to refer to "Administration," and the dates would need to be changed to 2012, when the Environmental Protection Agency issued its final Mercury Air Toxics Standards Rule; 2015, when the Department of Interior proposed its Stream Protection Rule and the EPA released its final Clean Power Plan; and 2016, when Interior froze the federal coal leasing program.  If we imagine those changes, this cartoon can explain how we got where we are today.

Mr. President, let me expand on those issues a bit further.  In 2012, the EPA finalized a standard that required a strict reduction in air emissions from electric generating utilities.  It was known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS rule, and like many of the rules coming from the EPA, the costs of this regulation were immense and the benefits were limited.  EPA estimated that the rule would create between $500,000 and $6 million in benefits related to mercury reductions at a cost of nearly $10 billion annually for implementation of the rule. 

Luckily, the Supreme Court rejected the MATS rule last year, stating that the EPA should have considered costs before setting out to regulate mercury from fossil fuel-fired power plants.  But the Administration wasn’t deterred. 

Late last year, Congress disapproved of both the Stream Protection Rule and the Clean Power Plan – disastrous rules aimed at eliminating the extraction and use of coal – using the Congressional Review Act.  We did so with bipartisan support, and yet the President did not listen, and instead chose to veto those bills. 

I believe a U.S. president should first and foremost seek to help the citizens of the United States.  That means a deep understanding of the people and the challenges they face.  President Obama, others in his Administration, and some seeking to replace him have demonstrated how woefully little they understand about coal, about the people who produce it and even about the people who use it.  Many folks in Wyoming who produce and use coal have reached out to me, and I want this Administration to hear from them.

This Administration needs to hear from people like Nancy, from my home town in Gillette.  She wrote last week to tell me about losing her job at a mine where she’d worked for 9 years.  She is 64 years old, single and takes care of her elderly father.  She has a house payment – a house she’s worked very hard to keep after going through a divorce.  Now, she’s worried about losing her house, and just wants a job so that she can keep her house and retire with a little money in her pocket. 

To understand the impact these policies have on not just energy workers, but the communities in which they live, the Administration needs to hear about Sarah from Newcastle.  Sarah and her husband started a carpet and flooring store and have been successfully managing it for over three decades.  She is sad to see so many in her community out of work and fearful that the economic downturn will mean the end of a business she’d devoted her life to creating.

The Administration needs to hear from Robert, again from Gillette, his hometown.  He recently lost his job at a smaller coal mine and had to uproot his family to move to another state to find work.   He knows that out West, the media markets are small and the national news will never cover the heartbreaking stories of his colleagues and neighbors in this coal market.  Robert needs to know that maybe the media won’t cover his family’s story, but I won’t forget about him and won’t stop fighting the bad policies this Administration has created. 

America has the resources, the manpower and the reserves to provide the energy we need for a strong economy and a healthy environment.  Nobody knows that better than folks in Wyoming, where people for generations have made a good living extracting energy from the same lands on which they love to hunt, fish, hike and camp.  People are dedicated stewards of the land and want their children and grandchildren to enjoy it in the same way.  That’s why Wyoming coal mines are recognized year after year for their outstanding reclamation efforts.  You can see that in this photo of beautiful land in Wyoming, where a short time before, a coal mine existed.  

What Wyoming and other states that produce and rely on fossil fuels need is innovative policies that will encourage new ways to continue to develop and use America’s huge reserves of coal, oil and gas.  One of those options is carbon sequestration, which Senators from both sides of the aisle in this Chamber have historically supported. 

Using this technology, carbon dioxide emitted from combusting fossil fuels can be captured and routed to secure geological storage, preventing it from being released into the atmosphere.  The carbon dioxide can also be used for enhanced recovery of oil and natural gas to help ensure America efficiently utilizes those resources.  Even the White House supports investment in research and development projects to make carbon capture more accessible, deployable, and affordable.  I hope my colleagues from any state that uses or produces fossil fuels will join me in supporting policies to encourage carbon sequestration.

Last week was a tough one for Wyoming, but I’m proud to be from a state that has always found a way to bounce back from any bust.  This is not the end of coal’s chapter in Wyoming’s history.  I will keep working to make sure of that.