SHERIDAN — On the 123rd anniversary of Wyoming statehood, Gov. Matt Mead appeared in Sheridan Wednesday to reassure business owners that his office is working to ensure the continued vitality of the state’s energy industry despite the economic and political hurdles that stand in its way.
“I think it is one of the defining issues, not only for our state, but for our country,” he told the audience of nearly 280 people at the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Holiday Inn.
In the face of mounting public hostility toward coal and heightened emission standards for coal-fired power plants, Mead’s speech focused mainly on a comprehensive energy strategy made public by his office earlier this year.
In his address to Chamber members, Mead said that while he considers the federal government to have been largely absent on issues of energy policy in recent years, it had often been difficult to point the finger in good conscience since Wyoming hadn’t outlined a strategy of its own.
Published in May, the governor’s energy strategy outlines several strategic themes including: economic competitiveness, expansion and diversification; efficient, effective regulation; natural resource conservation, reclamation and mitigation; and education, innovation and new technologies.
“The energy strategy is my attempt to say we should not leave this to chance,” Mead said. “We have to take initiative in Wyoming.”
One issue that reared its head during the speech was the state’s role in lobbying for increased export infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest.
While the push to build high capacity shipping terminals in Oregon and Washington has intensified in recent months, Mead said Wyoming’s role is limited when it comes to speeding up the process.
“Nobody’s going to force anything on Wyoming, and we’re not going to force anything on those states,” he said.
Still, those ports represent a significant opportunity for Wyoming coal producers in light of a drop in domestic coal demand caused largely by a newfound national emphasis on natural gas production.
Mead also fielded several questions from the audience regarding issues such as the role of renewable energy sources, environmental regulation and economic diversification.
In speaking about ways to broaden the state’s economic base, he touted Sheridan-based Ptolemy Data Systems as a leader in Wyoming’s efforts to take advantage of existing technological resources.
“We’re never going to become the surfing capital of the country,” Mead said in reference to state diversification efforts. “We have to figure out where we have natural advantages.”
Toward the end of his address, the governor was presented with a Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo jacket by emeritus rodeo board member Roger St. Clair to commemorate his stop in Sheridan.
“We like to think of this as the best week in Wyoming,” Chamber President Ken Thorpe told him.
Also at Wednesday’s luncheon, Chamber representatives urged the crowd to vote in favor of a $15.8 million bond measure to fund the renovation of the Technical Education Center at Sheridan College.
A special election will be held Aug. 20 to decide whether the project will move forward.
Lunch at Wednesday’s event was provided free of charge to all 276 attendees by First Federal Savings Bank.