Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal was on a whirlwind tour of Washington, D.C., this week, meeting with several federal agencies to talk energy, natural resources and wildlife.
Before he left the capitol, I met up with Freudenthal, who will be leaving office in a matter of weeks after two terms as Wyoming’s chief executive.
Protecting the sage grouse
The discussion began with Freudenthal talking about his meeting with the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. “My meeting with the Forest Service was primarily about dealing with public lands and the pine beetle and the sage grouse along with a few other policy measures.” For those unfamiliar, the sage grouse is the largest grouse in North America. Its population has been dwindling in recent decades. Wyoming has taken steps to protect the grouse’s habitats on state lands, but population concerns are only expected to grow as wind and other energy development is expected to increase in Wyoming, encroaching on the species' habitat. About a month ago, The New York Times reported on Freudenthal’s sage grouse policy and said it is a topic on which Freudenthal and the federal government are in agreement. “Freudenthal's core sage grouse strategy, initiated by executive order in 2008 and updated this summer, has been endorsed by the Fish and Wildlife Service and BLM, which allows the state Game and Fish Department to vet pending oil and gas development decisions,” wrote Phil Taylor.
A clash over coal
The sage grouse agreement is an exception to the relationship. I asked the governor if he stood by comments made earlier in the year when he called Ned Farquhar “a coal hater.” Farquhar is the Interior Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management. “You bet. It is interesting that Ned Farquhar and a set of those people are in a position to manage federal resources including coal and they are essentially anti-coal. I have a problem with that. The role of the resource is to manage the resource, not to implement their own personal policy.” Freudenthal went on to say that the state has filed a Freedom of Information Act request so he could see all the correspondence between Farquhar and environmental organizations.
Wolves: The never-ending story
The conversation then turned to the hot topic of wolf policy in the West. For years, western states and the federal government have tangled over how to deal with the species as its population numbers recover. For a brief time, Wyoming’s management policy allowed for controlled hunting and preservation in certain areas of the state, but that policy was struck down after a few short months. The issue remains in the courts and is a lightning rod for debate between ranchers, environmentalists, federal agencies and western policy makers. Freudenthal said the issue was discussed with members of the Interior Department, but he didn’t hint that any progress was made. “Not a lot of progress, I haven’t changed my position and they haven’t changed theirs. It’s like that book you read to your kids, ‘The Never Ending Story,’ that’s what I feel like this wolf issue has become.”
Caution on carbon management
Freudenthal also talked about a brief meeting he had with EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. According to the governor, the two talked about environmental issues surrounding energy development in the small Wyoming town of Pavillion, but he also talked with Jackson about the agency’s plans for regulating carbon emissions. “We encouraged them, frankly, to slow down on CO2 management. The rules that they are doing are not thought out. It needs time.” Freudenthal went on to say, “Any action by Congress or by EPA should be well thought out and I don’t have a sense as to how this will play. We are all in the same position; in some states we have to address this issue, but the question is ‘how,’ so let’s not just jump off a cliff just because we can.”
The interview ended with a light note ... sort of. I asked the governor, who loves to criticize Washington, D.C., if it was different coming to the city knowing he wouldn’t be governor in 45 days. His reply was true to form: “Nope, it’s equally unpleasant.”