Gus Carlson is a U.S.-based columnist for The Globe and Mail.
The push by a group of state lawmakers in Wyoming last week to introduce a bill banning the sale of electric vehicles by 2035 elicited as many sarcastic snickers as concerned frowns.
Even the backers of the bill admitted the effort was mostly symbolic, a supportive nod to the state’s oil and gas industry – a huge job-creation machine and revenue generator. And even if the proposed bill becomes law, its six Republican authors concede it will be difficult to enforce and unlikely to make an impact.
But as a direct response to recent moves by 15 states, including California and New York, to ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035, the bill points up the increasingly desperate attempts by small jurisdictions who tie their economic prosperity to fossil fuels to have their voices heard over the loud chorus singing the praises of the green movement.
And Wyoming, like so many sparsely populated, resource-rich states that are not the darlings of Washington insiders and the coastal elite, is trying to get creative to make its concerns known.
To some, Wyoming’s stunt seems to be a case of the mouse that roared. The Cowboy State is not exactly the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, the tiny fictional country of the 1959 satirical film that declared war on the United States in the hope of securing some Marshall Plan-like largesse. But it is close.
Wyoming has a population just north of half a million people. California and New York combined have almost 60 million residents.
In terms of economic heft, Wyoming looks pretty scrawny next to its sumo-sized fellow states supporting EVs. In 2022, its gross state product was US$3-billion. New York’s GSP was US$2-trillion last year; California’s, US$3.6-trillion.
No matter the measure, it is hardly a fair fight for a small, so-called flyover state trying to get attention and sway national opinion.
It doesn’t help that states such as Wyoming see the Biden administration as continuing to punish the oil and gas industry. The President relentlessly calls out big oil companies to put lower pump prices ahead of profits, fraying relations with the sector and the millions of people who depend on it for jobs. Especially so when they blame Mr. Biden’s energy policies for higher gas prices in the first place.
With weak support in Washington, such states are taking things into their own hands and trying to punch – or roar – above their weight.
In addition to the impact of EVs on Wyoming’s economic engine, supporters of the bill say that making taxpayers whose livelihoods depend on the oil and gas industry pay for charging infrastructure would be akin to rubbing their noses in the very dung they want to avoid.
The bill also suggests that, along with the cost of building new charging stations, keeping them juiced up would require massive amounts of additional power to “sustain the misadventure of electric vehicles.”
The fact that EV batteries are not easily recyclable or disposable is another reason for the ban, supporters say.
“The proliferation of electric vehicles at the expense of gas-powered vehicles will have deleterious impacts on Wyoming’s communities and will be detrimental to Wyoming’s economy and the ability for the country to effectively engage in commerce,” the bill states.
Partisan posturing? Certainly. But somewhere in the political theatre is a legitimate economic plea from real people about real jobs in a changing world.
Will this mouse’s roar be heard beyond the halls of the state legislature in Cheyenne? The bill’s authors aren’t taking any chances.
The last clause of the legislation instructs Wyoming’s Secretary of State to send a copy to California Governor Gavin Newsom, a vocal advocate of the gas-powered vehicle ban.