BEN NEARY Associated Press Writer JACKSON, Wyo.
State lawmakers from around the West are gathering in the northern Wyoming resort town of Jackson over the next few days to figure out how to get better coordinated on energy issues. Many are also interested in showing a united front as Congress considers bills that could put a damper on the nation's longterm appetite for coal. Wyoming has put up more than $400,000 to fund the Western States Energy and Environment Symposium. Organizers say about 75 state lawmakers from around the West are attending. Wyoming, the leading coal-producing state in the nation, has a keen interest in legislation pending in Congress aimed at tackling global warming. The Senate is set to debate this week a bill intended to cut greenhouse gases by about 80 percent by 2050. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told the state lawmakers he's concerned about projections that the pending federal legislation will cut jobs in Wyoming and elsewhere in the West. "I'm in favor of the green jobs, but I'm also in favor of the red, white and blue jobs that we have right now in the Rocky Mountains," Barrasso said. "Cap and trade will not keep energy affordable, and will weaken our economy," Barrasso said. The term "cap and trade" refers to a system that would allow companies to buy and sell permits to pollute. Ted Boyer, a member of the Utah Public Service Commission, said in an interview that it appears bills pending in both the Senate and House would hurt western states that depend on coalfired plans for the bulk of their power. Boyer said he hopes western states can work together to reduce the risks of a cap and trade program. Boyer said western states all have different energy resource portfolios. Wyoming, for example, has developed abundant natural gas and coal, and increasingly, wind power. States in the Southwest have solar resources, while those in the Northwest have hydropower, he said. "If we can move more cooperatively, and use those resources on a regional basis, it seems to me that we can as a region, comply with whatever regime is imposed on us without drastic, catastrophic costs," Boyer said. Edward Randolph, chief policy consultant to the California State Assembly's Committee on Utilities and Commerce, is representing his state. A special budget session prevented California lawmakers from attending. Randolph said California law prohibits utilities in that state from signing new long-term contracts for electricity generated from burning coal. Even so, he said California sees value in the symposium. "The other states potentially have markets for wind power, for solar power, for geothermal power, and in some cases, some natural gas," Randolph said. "So even without coal, a lot of the western states have some resources that I think we could use in the future. "On the flip side, I think we're going to have some resources in the future that we expect to export to other western states as well. The prime spots for solar are all in California," Randolph said.