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Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon discussed the future of the state’s climate response and economy at a JFK Jr. Forum event at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics Monday evening.
Gordon, who advocates for limited federal oversight in the state’s governance, discussed the unique relationship between Wyoming and Washington.
“I think that one of things that people don’t understand from the East, often, is how big the country is and, I think, the dynamics of being almost a continent away from where the seat of power is,” he said in response to a question from moderator HKS professor Jeff Liebman, an alumnus of the Clinton and Obama administrations.
Wyoming has a “real sense of independence,” Gordon said.
“I think one of those things we can bring to conversation is what that independent spirit can do, particularly if you work together,” he added.
Gordon then discussed his role as chair of the Western Governors Association and his initiative for “Decarbonizing the West,” which seeks to research decarbonization strategies and distinguishes Gordon from his peers within Republican leadership.
Western Governors is “an organization that is successful because it is bipartisan,” he said. He described his work with neighboring governors such as Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico on policies covering energy and rural healthcare.
“It is clear that we have a warming climate,” he said. “It is clear that carbon dioxide is a major contributor to that challenge. There is an urgency to addressing this issue.”
But he said his state will be ambitious.
“Wyoming is the first that has said that we will be carbon negative,” he said.
Using props, Gordon demonstrated potential “carbon sinks” in the form of asphalt derived from oil and coal. He listed new carbon capture technologies, forest management, nuclear energy, and geothermal technology as on “the entire spectrum of things that we can do to produce reliable, dispatchable energy that people require and need at affordable costs.”
Gordon expressed his frustration with the federal government’s presence, which is at odds with the “libertarian background” of Wyoming.
“No matter what we do, somehow the federal government has a role to play in almost everything,” he said.
He specifically criticized the National Environmental Policy Act, arguing that “it has become more of an obstacle than a benefit.”
All of this requires an economic plan to diversify Wyoming’s economy. Gordon described his plan for moving away from the state’s dependence on mineral resources toward attracting new industries, including building out digital asset deposits and a new stabletoken.
“We’re a small but mighty state,” he said.
But the lack of labor in Wyoming poses a prominent challenge toward Gordon’s plans for economic diversification.
“It is very hard to find somebody that is an American that wants to spend time in a sheep wagon,” he said.
In these cases, the state relies largely on migrant workers to fill labor openings, although Gordon voiced his disapproval of the country’s ability to confront the immigration crisis currently underway.
Liebman then asked Gordon about his view on Indigenous poverty in Wyoming.
Gordon promoted the treatment of Wyoming’s Indigenous Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes as “sovereign nations.”
Since the Wind River Reservation includes two tribes, he said, Congress divides appropriations between the two, one of the “complications” of advancing Indigenous interests in Wyoming’s poorest region.
Despite these major changes, Gordon said he does not want to lose the Wyoming of his childhood.
“There’s a great quote from a historian that says, ‘Wyoming now has the opportunity to do what most other states would have loved to have been able to do if they hadn’t been driven by greed,’” he said. “And I am really hopeful that as Wyoming does develop and grow, that we do it with a real sense of what’s precious about where we live and how we can maintain that.”
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