CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Coal was on the minds of candidates for Wyoming's seat in the U.S. House as they mingled with party insiders over cocktails at a Laramie County Republican Party gathering on Friday.
Republicans need to be able to persuade the public based on facts, candidate Liz Cheney said, such as by explaining the nation's reliance on coal-fired electricity.
"Voters in Wyoming, the American public in general, they care about the facts. People are rational and reasonable and they want to listen. But we have to be willing to make the case," said Cheney, a former Fox News commentator who lives in Wilson. She is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who comes from Wyoming.
Federal regulations about the use of coal as an energy source probably have hurt Wyoming more than any other state, she said.
The Laramie County Lincoln Day event drew at least half of the nine Republicans running for the seat to be vacated by Rep. Cynthia Lummis' retirement next year. Two candidates who are state lawmakers — Sen. Leland Christensen of Alta and Rep. Tim Stubson of Casper — took part following the first week of the Legislature's four-week budget session.
Low prices for natural gas have played a bigger role in the coal industry's deepening troubles than yet-to-be implemented federal regulations. Two major, debt-ridden coal companies that mine in Wyoming, Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources, have filed for bankruptcy within the past six months.
This week, however, the U.S. Supreme Court suspended the implementation of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan to control climate change until the high court can rule on litigation contesting the measure. Candidates were optimistic coal may not be a lost cause.
"Coal is still our most reliable and our most inexpensive form of energy, and we can't just turn our backs on it," Stubson said. "You can't just write off the largest, cheapest source of energy we have."
Christensen said Wyoming's small population requires its leaders in Washington, D.C., to pick their battles but also be outspoken in advancing the state's causes.
"Let people know about what the war on coal has done and is doing to Wyoming. Show up and be engaged, and be a fighter," he said.
Northwest College instructor Mike Konsmo of Powell wants to help lift the recently announced moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands and encourage exports of coal overseas by way of a proposed coal terminal in the Northwest. He also suggested diversifying Wyoming's economy by promoting tourism and small business.
"We can work to reform some of the tax laws to give them a little more of a tax break on the federal level. We need to do a better job of giving resources to individuals in the state who want to start small businesses," Konsmo said.
Republicans in several other Wyoming counties also will host Lincoln Day events over the next several weeks.