- Associated Press - Thursday, March 13, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead heads to Australia next week to participate in a conference on advanced coal technology. He will also evaluate how the Australians export coal to Asia, a market Wyoming is hungry to tap despite opposition from other states.

Mead and researchers from the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources will participate in the 2014 International Advanced Coal Technology Conference in Brisbane, a city on Australia’s eastern coast.

Mead spokesman Renny MacKay said the governor will leave Wyoming on Saturday, tour a coal port on Monday and speak at the conference on Tuesday. He said Mead’s family will accompany him at their own expense.

The conference, which has been held in Wyoming and China in the past, focuses on how to capture, store and utilize the carbon released by burning coal.

“Those involved in this research are looking at technologies to add value to coal and its use now and in the future,” Mead said in a prepared statement.

“We in Wyoming have much to offer to this work and much to gain from it. The advancement of coal research will benefit Wyoming, its people and the coal industry. I fully support it.”

Wyoming is the leading coal-producer in the United States but has seen its production dwindle in recent years. Mead and other state officials blame the decline on the federal government’s enacting tougher standards on emissions from coal-fired power plants. Federal officials say the standards are aimed at reducing global warming.

Wyoming’s coal production dropped from more than 430 million tons in 2011 to 385 million tons last year, according to a recent state report. The state relies on coal revenues to fund education programs.

Wyoming didn’t see any successful federal coal lease sales last year. One scheduled sale received no bids, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management rejected the highest bid it received for another sale, saying it was below market value.

“Australia exports millions of tons of coal each year to Asian markets,” Mead said Thursday. “These same countries are interested in Wyoming coal. I look forward to visiting and seeing a vibrant coal port to better understand the benefits and challenges associated with this method of export.”

Wyoming’s dreams of exporting coal to Asia have run into opposition from states in the Northwest that oppose the prospect of coal trains from the Powder River Basin heading to ports on the Pacific Coast.

Mead last year asked the White House to disregard pressure from the governors of Washington and Oregon who had asked the federal government to evaluate the effects of greenhouse gases that would be emitted by exporting U.S. coal to Asia from ports in the Northwest.

The Washington State Department of Ecology last month announced that it intends to undertake an environmental study evaluating the global-warming effects of exporting coal from Wyoming and Montana and burning it in Asia.

Mead last week signed a budget bill to fund the coming two years of Wyoming government operations that includes $500,000 for possible litigation over access to deep water ports for coal exports.

At a press conference last week, Mead said he’s concerned at the prospect of another state trying to do a “global environmental impact statement.” He said such a study would be contrary to the tradition of environmental review and impede interstate commerce.

While Wyoming hasn’t filed any legal action yet, Mead said, “I think that is a scenario where we’re going to have to be aggressive in making sure that Wyoming is treated fairly in that process, and that we have an opportunity to ship Wyoming coal out of those ports.”

Mead said he’s skeptical global warming is caused by humans. “Science changes, and it’s odd to me that scientists say ‘never be skeptical,’ because it was in the mid-70s when they were saying we’re sunk because we’re going to have global climate cooling,” he said.

Mead said Wyoming has been at the forefront of research into carbon capture and sequestration. “What I’m not skeptical of is the markets globally,” he said. “And you certainly see the pressure on coal.

“Whether we are skeptical about climate change or not, I’m not skeptical about what the markets are doing,” Mead said. “You have to recognize what the markets are doing, what the rules and regulations are doing and all the more reasons that we’ve got to find some more solutions in particular with coal.”

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