Wyoming

Wyoming Rep. Gray Exposes GOP Fossil Fuel Gullibility

by Derek Jolley and Matt Stannard, on March 1, 2021

On the February 26 Solidarity Wyoming podcast, the writers of this post discuss the North American winter storm and the widespread political misinformation covered here. We also discuss the sweetheart deal that failed coal mine owners struck with the Department of Interior to the detriment of people and communities in Wyoming.

From February 13-17 of this year, Winter Storm Uri covered Texas with snow and ice. The underdevelopment and maldevelopment of Texas energy infrastructure resulted in widespread power outages in that state.

On February 16, Wyoming State Representative and former talk show host Chuck Gray of District 57 asserted on his Facebook page:

“Just as Wyoming conservatives predicted, the Texas grid is failing because of their reliance on renewables. I’m bringing a bill in the upcoming legislative session to assert that utility decisions must be made with consideration to reliability. We must save our coal-fired power plants.”

Congressman Gray’s effort to conform to one of the most lucrative tenets of the GOP party line shows how little he respects the intelligence of his constituents, as his statement on Facebook makes one of the most easily refutable yet oft-repeated claims by his particular brand of punditry.  In the continuing wake of ‘Winter Storm Uri’, this claim has seen a renewal in mainstream political discussion.  These unfounded attacks on the supposed unreliability of renewable energy sources are long past due for retirement.

Casper’s own Oil City News provided the most basic numerical refutation of the claim that the continual rolling blackouts experienced in Texas are the fault of “their reliance on renewables.”  In the first place, wind-generated power accounts for only 25% of Texas’s total electricity supply.  Offline power from renewable sources amounted to 16,000 megawatts, compared to 30,000 megawatts offline from gas, coal, and nuclear sources.  Wind power in particular proved to be, on average, more reliable than nonrenewable sources during the February outages.

In examining the lie that Congressman Gray is parroting, a simplistic narrative emerges: the winter storm coated wind turbines with ice and otherwise induced malfunction, in contrast to fuel-burning energy sources, which are impervious to such problems due to the high-temperature nature of their operation.  Yes, there were cases of storm-produced wind turbine shutdowns (due to a lack of proper weatherization).  In the big picture, the extreme freeze largely disrupted off-source electrical equipment regardless of what that source was, again, thanks to the lack of sufficient weatherization.  Severe winter storms in the region are not unprecedented – they occur rather regularly every eight to ten years, thus the excuse that proper equipment weatherization is not worth the cost is invalid.

An interesting case study in the propagation of this lie takes the form of a meme primarily transmitted on Facebook in the wake of the power crisis.  Originating with Texas fossil fuels pundit and consultant Luke Legate, the meme consists of a 2015 photograph of a helicopter deploying a fluid de-icing agent to a wind turbine in Sweden with a caption that reads: “A helicopter running on fossil fuel spraying a chemical made from fossil fuels during an ice storm is awesome.”  Another variant comprised the same image superimposed with the text “Only two things are infinite; the universe and human stupidity. – Albert Einstein”.  It seems clear that the meme was spread with the intention of making the viewer think that this aerial maneuver was photographed in Texas, and more insidiously, that “helicopter turbine rescues” widespread practice in Texas.  The photo was in fact taken during a research and development exercise for improving turbine weatherization technology, not an attempt to put a turbine back online “during an ice storm”.  Weatherization technology has made wind a viable source of power from Canada to Antarctica.

The February winter storm has brought to widespread public attention the infrastructural anomaly that is the Texas Interconnection, the power grid that covers most of the state; this provides critical context for understanding the significance of the previously mentioned numbers.  At no point crossing the state line, the Texas Interconnection’s manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is spared the trouble of having to comply with FERC regulations.  This geographic confinement also nixes the state’s ability to take in power from outside sources, at least in a reasonable amount of time. In short, Texas’s intentional separation from outside electrical grids is the reason for the deadly power outages, not a reliance on renewable energy. The profit incentive so foundational to a capitalist economy has, as it always does, superseded the value of human life.  The motivation for a separate Texas Interconnection was based on fossil fuel moguls’ unwillingness to sacrifice revenue to federal regulation; scores of otherwise preventable deaths are attributable to the Texas power outages alone.

One might question how such disasters are the fault of capitalism.  To illustrate one aspect of this declaration, let’s look at the alliance between dozens of key players in the fossil fuel industry and the politicians who ensure their continued survival.  Three members of Congress who represent Texas, Senator John Cornyn, Senator Ted Cruz, and Congressman Dan Crenshaw, are widely known as being some of the most outspoken proponents – and reliable voters – for the interests of the fossil fuel industry.  In the 2020 election cycle alone, these three politicians together were the recipients of over $1.1 million in donations from fossil fuel donors.  These donors took the form of political action committees organized by dozens of corporations, including giants like Chevron and Exxon and smaller regional players like Wildhorse Energy and Chief Oil & Gas, as well as thousands of individuals employed in these companies.  Interestingly, Senator Cruz received tens of thousands of dollars in donations apparently just as personal spending money, since he wasn’t up for reelection this cycle and not running a campaign.  

Hundreds of thousands more are donated to Texas state-level politicians every year, like Governor Greg Abbott, who in a recent appearance on The Sean Hannity Show claimed that the blackouts “shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America…” and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who is preparing a bill that would blacklist Texas companies that “don’t love fossil fuels”.  Fossil fuel corporations use this method of legislative electioneering as a form of insurance.  Every dollar that they give to their political allies is a frantic attempt to protect themselves from legislation that would otherwise gut their profits or ultimately work toward replacing them.

A few days after Rep. Gray’s ridiculous comments, according to the Powder River Basin Resource Council,

“the Department of Interior, Eagle Specialty Materials (ESM), and the attorneys in Blackjewel’s bankruptcy case released a settlement agreement for unpaid royalties on federal coal leases mined by Blackjewel, and its predecessor, Contura, at the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. According to the legal filing, over $32 million in royalties are unpaid at the Belle Ayr Mine and $27.8 million in royalties are unpaid at the Eagle Butte Mine, with hundreds of thousands owed in interest.”

Be sure and read the whole story. Belly-up mine owners are regularly taking millions of dollars away from mine workers and residents of Wyoming, often while getting away with their own golden parachutes. That makes it even more disturbing to far right politicians making such earnest efforts to lie for the industry. Who are their stakeholders?

The exorbitant amount of political power wielded by industrialists demonstrates a mortal flaw in a government system heavily influenced by liberalism (in this case referring to the political philosophy that props up free markets and private property rights).  Democratic ideals are ineffectual when the capitalist elite have such an enormous influence on the information we have access to and the way we interact with each other.  If you “vote with your dollar” under capitalism, in what way is the system where a few people have billions of times more votes than you democratic?  Americans, and all who live under capitalist hegemony, live their lives with the unspoken understanding that, in the end, it is the rich and powerful who have the final say in how decisions are made.  

Fossil fuel barons and their political allies are not our friends.  Just as tobacco executives promised that their products were not addictive, fossil fuel executives are aware their products have been environmentally poisonous and are not economically viable.  This is why companies that fund climate denialism and economic scare-mongering in the media are at the same time insuring their facilities against the effects of climate disruption. 

It takes a great deal of moral fortitude to admit we’ve been duped, and we hope you’ll join us in the struggle for a healthier world and a more democratic society.

Derek Jolley and Matt Stannard are members of the Solidarity House Cooperative media team in Laramie. You can hear their discussion of this article on the February 26 episode of the Solidarity Wyoming podcast. You can support their work here.

Why Poor People Don’t Run for Federal Office

by Yana Ludwig
July 1, 2019

I’m running for US Senate as someone who regularly experiences economic insecurity. Here’s a little of how that has been so far.

A few months ago, one of my housemates said to me, “You do the Millennial hustle better than any Millennial I know.” What she was referring to is my multiple part-time jobs and freelancing gigs that comprise my part of keeping the mortgage paid and the lights on.

It was funny and kinda flattering (I’m too old to actually be a Millennial, but I often find that they are the folks I most easily connect with). But her teaching me that phrase brought part of her generation’s struggle into sharper focus: the painful reality I experience around not having work and economic stability is so common for her age mates that they’ve coined a term for it. Ufdah.

There’s pain in this reality. The constant hustle takes its toll, some months there isn’t enough and we have to do that horrible juggling act (pay insurance or get car fixed? delay the dentist for another couple months or skip getting new groceries and eat pantry dregs?). If it wasn’t for the Affordable Care Act, I’d be one of the millions of people who live in fear of waking up in the morning will illness rising and nowhere to go; as is, the co-pay and deductible still discourages “good” choices sometimes.

I’m running for office because of that economic insecurity, and because climate disruption is a real and rising reality for all of us, but especially people of color and poor people everywhere. I’m running now because there is urgency to both, and because the rise of fascism needs people to stand in its way as powerfully as possible. And for some reason I woke up in February with the notion in my head that maybe I could stand up more formally and actually run for office.

So I’m doing this thing, and I’m committed to seeing it through, whether that means it is over in 14 months, 17 months or 8 years. And I was in no way “financially ready” for this.

In fact, I almost didn’t run because of money. One of the first things I learned when I started talking to folks who know more than I do about elections is that candidates can’t pull any kind of salary from their campaign coffers until after the primary filing date closes: in my case, because I’m in a state with a late primary, that means June 6 of 2020. So running means adding to my hustle a nearly full time additional job. That pays nothing. For a year. When I’m already struggling.

But it gets worse. Once you can pull a salary, you are limited to either what you made last year, or what the office you are running for pays, whichever is less. Think that through for a second. That means that someone who makes the big bucks can pull a salary equivalent to $174K (current US Senator salary), and I can pull a salary equivalent of less than $25K, for the same work. It’s blatantly classist and it is hard to believe there wasn’t intentional favoring of rich people to be able to run for office.

My next inquiry was, “Can I crowdfund to help keep my bills paid while I run?” And the answer was, “Nope. Any help people give you because you are running counts as a campaign contribution and is subject to these restrictions.” So that modern desperation go-to isn’t even available. (I can’t even publish this article on my own blog because it is on patreon and will be interpreted as an “ask”.)

My response to learning these things was first despair (CAN I do this? How does anyone do this?!?) then analysis (THIS is why we are so under-represented! I’m seeing the mechanism laid bare!) to deeper commitment (Godammit, someone has to do this. Let’s go!)

But I’m dragging other people along. The financial stress in my life was already there and it is shared stress with my family and community-mates. I’m going through waves of feeling anxious and guilty for this choice, which was, after all, my choice first and foremost. And the more I show up as a candidate, the less I’m available to help get that mortgage paid. 

I’m also harboring deep fears that this is going to compromise my health. I have chronic Lyme disease, which is held in check by daily doses of herbs and being the party pooper who heads for bet at 8:30 most nights. It’s a precarious balance, and falling off that cliff can mean weeks or even months of increased pain and exhaustion. Plus not being able to work for a while, which just leads to more stress and anxiety as the bills pile up and my partner has to double down on his own already exhausting work life.

Then there is the “birds of a feather” phenomenon: I don’t hang out with millionaires, which makes fundraising for anything a challenge. And I don’t have millions of my own money to throw in to my own campaign. An independent candidate in the last Wyoming US Senate race joked in an interview that his wife had agreed to let him spend $1M on his campaign… but he’d do more if she wasn’t paying attention. Isn’t that sexist and cute? And casually unaware of his own privilege?

Reading that article left me feeling the old shame of being a capitalist system failure. I comfort myself with the story that I’ve always been more oriented toward service than a big paycheck, but the reality is that even if I had tried to play that game in earnest, only a handful of people ever “make it” if they don’t start out in a family with a lot of wealth.

So the crux of the “why” is that the deck is stacked against us, both in general and within the minutiae of campaign finance law. My family is going to go through the squeezebox of economic stress over the next year and a half in the hope that I can win a seat at the table and be part of changing the mess that is our electoral system, and win or lose, being a role model for not accepting the hand we’ve been dealt. 

I want public financing. I want Citizens United dead and gone. I want corporate power blunted so that people with a real commitment to the working class and poor can actually stand a chance in our electoral system. And the deeper I get into the stressful, anything-but-justice-based process of running for a federal office, the more fierce that commitment gets. 

Yana Ludwig is the author of Together Resilient: Building Community in the Age of Climate Disruption, and is a candidate for United States Senate. She is a founder of Solidarity Collective in Laramie, Wyoming. 

Photo credit: https://www.yana4wyo.com/platform

 

How to Go Left (& not get left behind) in Wyoming

by Matt Stannard
May 7, 2019

The presumption that the right gets to call the shots is the Wyoming establishment’s greatest political weapon. It has allowed center-right, “moderate” oil and gas pawns to dominate policymaking by allowing the far right and the billionaire class to dominate policy and values rhetoric. Periodically, Wyomingites are reminded that resistance to this arrangement is futile, and besides, we’re all one big small town here, so we best not be getting uncivil about the way we do things (“uncivil” is when anyone besides Al Simpson or Dick Cheney cusses at somebody, or any time poor people, women, indigenous people, queer folks or people of color object to the cultural and material hierarchies of the state).

I’m here to tell you that’s all good old-fashioned Wyoming bullshit. There’s a growing, increasingly vocal, diverse left here, and you’re probably part of it — if you want to be. Here are five ways you can effectively engage the political landscape on this very colonized land.

1. Join (or form) politically independent or transpartisan left groups.

In addition to political parties, there are also independent political advocacy groups that can bring Democrats, Greens, socialists and independents together around common causes or issues. There’s already a Southeast Wyoming chapter of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA is not affiliated with any party but endorses candidates and organizes direct political action around issues of economic justice); maybe you’re reading this in Evanston or Lander and want to organize additional branches. There are progressive coalitions in cities across the state. There are publications and groups like WyoFile and Better Wyoming, there’s Wyoming Equality, and more [I’ll even edit this paragraph to add more groups if you suggest them]. Trans-partisan and multi-party activism gives us strength beyond our numbers and helps us articulate a general left direction for state politics.

2. Support ANY organizations and candidates that push Wyoming leftward — and use your dialogue and solidarity to shape their direction.

If a candidate is left of center but not left of center enough for you, support them and talk to them about why they should be more left of center. If an organization publishes stories about education funding, hate crimes, and LGBTQAA+ rights, support them and push them to cover labor rights and cooperative economics too. Aim to be invitational and not isolationist with anyone seeking to make things even somewhat better here.

In Wyoming, we don’t have the luxury of sectarianism. We can and should be clear about our beliefs and orientations, but we absolutely must find common points of convergence and action in order to push back against the Foster Friessian privatize-everything machine and the incipient fascists in cowboy boots.

3. Stand in solidarity with groups and individuals brave enough to push the boundaries — and proactively defend them when they’re attacked.

The last three years have seen unprecedented creation and growth of an unapologetic, self-identified collection of left, socialist, direct action, anti-ICE and anti-fascist and other groups in Wyoming, and they are out in the streets, on our campuses, in our living rooms, and showing up at the state legislature and other points of engagement. Even if you aren’t a member of any of those groups, those groups need you to be vocal and supportive allies and defenders when they face inevitable right-wing backlash.

Stand with and listen to indigenous people, and with the brave Latinx activists and others fighting against the construction of a private detention facility in Evanston and for freedom from ICE’s brutality across the state. Support Juntos and join their rapid response network. Stand up for the Southeast Wyoming DSA and for the Wyoming Red Star Coalition (remember that the Martin Niemöller poem actually begins “first they came for the socialists”).

There will be pressure from your moderate and conservative acquaintances to denounce “the far left.” Please don’t give in to that pressure.  Those groups are creating good space for all of us, and are taking a lot of personal risks in their endeavors. Be their allies, accomplices, and fellow travelers when you can. Prove to the doubters that an injury to one truly is an injury to all.

4. Speak, write, and share your politics.

A bunch of us here at Solidarity Collective in Laramie produce “Solidarity Wyoming,” a podcast about left politics in Wyoming. We also host public discussions and offer space for groups to have their meetings. We want to amplify those voices that often feel silenced here. We want to see spaces like that activated across the state. Everyone should be amplifying one another’s voices through social media, public discussions, blogs, podcasts, and any other media conduits we can access. If you have opinions, be part of the external political discussion and the internal debates and discussions that will help our ideas evolve and win.

5. Don’t let the right –or the center– define our political reality.

People make political reality when they join together and fight for it. And if every person in Wyoming who doesn’t feel represented by the old elites, who doesn’t want to be defined by underground carbon deposits and their planet-choking extraction and burning, who doesn’t currently vote or votes reluctantly, who’s thinking of leaving but can’t (or is looking for a reason to stay), if all of us got together, we could win local elections, create sizable public demonstrations, form networks of direct action and material solidarity, and support candidates and policies designed to break the hold of ranching and fossil fuels on Wyoming’s means of production–and to actualize Wyoming’s claim to be the Equality State.

Let’s do it. We have nothing to lose but our dusty, oil-and-cowshit-covered chains.

Matt Stannard is Operations Director at Solidarity House Cooperative in Laramie.

ICE, Detention Centers, and the Commons

(matt)

Despite the threat sanctuary cities are under, I wish I lived in one. I wish I could support public officials who, politically at least, see noncitizens (whatever their immigration status) and citizens as equally worthy of moral consideration, as equal stakeholders in the community. Wyoming is lucky enough to have a few public officials who see both documented and undocumented residents of the state as part of their community family, but the odds, unsurprisingly, are not in our favor.

Wyoming’s ruling class, its cattle and mineral and real estate interests, often exhibits a uniquely and sometimes brutally indifferent attitude towards disadvantaged people. And although Wyoming has always had a significant Latinix community, it hasn’t been easy for them.

Comes now Management and Training Corporation, an allegedly terrible Utah company, to build an ICE detention facility in Evanston, the Wyoming border town an hour from Salt Lake City. Andrew Graham of the ever-important and brilliant WyoFile, described developments as of last October:

Both Evanston’s city council and Uinta County’s commission unanimously passed resolutions in June to support the Management Training Corporation’s plan to build and manage an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center just outside Evanston city limits. The jail would have the capacity to hold 500 undocumented immigrants detained by ICE while they await court hearings in Salt Lake City.
Uinta officials are uncertain whether they need Wyoming’s five statewide elected officials to approve the project. It is possible a jail holding immigration detainees does not require the same level of approval as other forms of private prisons regulated under Wyoming law, a county official said. Either way, MTC’s efforts to jail immigration detainees from throughout the northern rockies in Uinta County have thus far gone largely without notice in the state at large.

Except they didn’t go unnoticed for long. More on that in a minute, but first more about MTC, which has come under scrutiny for a number of problems that ought to raise red flags in the minds of the public: corrupt officials, riots, prison breaks, sexual abuse by officers, alleged human rights violations, and a number of other charges ranging from concerning to embarassing to horrifying. If even some of these charges are true, that raises serious public policy concerns. MTC also deploys prison labor and I was told by people I trust in this subject matter that it was very likely ICE will utilize detainee labor –practically unpaid–at the facility it wants in Wyoming. I’ve written articles and talked about this before. Extracting surplus value from the labor of the incarcerated is an especially insidious and destructive form of bio-political control.

MTC knows it’s in trouble. Fortunately, ICE is having problems of its own (notwithstanding the Trump administration’s mandate for ICE to behave like literal stormtroopers). Evanston, Wyoming–in Uinta County–is a chance for both corporation and goon squad to do right. Finding willing jurisdictions for building detention centers has been challenging. The hope is that Wyoming, immersed in a downward trajectory of economic insecurity, and highly supportive of unhinged border nationalist Donald Trump, will be a willing partner.

But there’s fierce resistance (partly due to Wyofile‘s coverage) and it’s growing throughout the state. Thanks to groups like Juntos, the ACLU, and the Equality State Policy Center (and many other organizations, churches, groups, and individuals, an organized effort is underway to pursue numerous political, legal, and social pressure-oriented means (check out #WyoSayNo) of stopping the project. I’m helping.

I’m not just helping because immigrants are human beings, detainees are human beings, and we’re all potential aliens and detainees (that’s all true though). I’m helping because our vision of the Commons, of community, and of cooperativism will not work alongside a regime of regulating human movement based on violence. If we are to “regulate” migration, let us do so democratically and cooperatively. That’s the spirit of the Commons appropriate to the tens of thousands of years of cultures migrating, traveling cyclically, escaping bad things and journeying to better places, together. Welcoming the stranger, giving the outsider the head seat at our table, is a recognition of our universal dependence on the Commons. If we have to regulate the way and where we move, we need different criteria, and different voices, in place to exist with and honor how and why we travel across, out of, and into shared spaces.

More later on this, here at C on the C, and elsewhere.

Photo credit: aljazeera.com

What We’re Doing in Laramie

by Matt Stannard

Members of the Laramie Ecovillage Group, myself included, are in the process of creating an intentional, ecologically sustainable, income-sharing community near Laramie, Wyoming. If you share our values (cooperative culture, non-hierarchical economic communalism, deliberative democracy, commitment to personal and spiritual growth), you might consider reaching out to us and join us in committing our lives to a world beyond capitalism.

We consider our effort to be revolutionary in scope. All of us in the group are, in ways both different and similar, economic refugees. All of us are committed to both reducing the adverse impact humans have on the environment, and practicing a personal, radically intimate (while deeply respectful of personal security and space) localized socialism that we believe is conducive to a widespread transformation of economic and political systems. We share the belief that personal and social change ought to be complimentary, and reject the idea that we must choose between mass political change and local community building as “first priorities.”

We are committed to income-sharing because economic insecurity has killed those we love and has whittled away at our own lives. Our community will share in both debits and rewards, and we will practice carefully-planned scaling of costs and community enterprises to take advantage of the basic principles of economic cooperation. We are already forming one cooperative business enterprise and will facilitate more, aided by the plentitude of information about cooperative management from a variety of values-compatible sources.

Presently, we are exploring many land acquisition options, from community land trusts to cooperative or private purchase. We are looking at several pieces of land and have so far received one offer from a seller. Our group includes legal professionals and experienced intentional community consultants–and several people who have previously lived in intentional communities.

Next weekend, we are hosting a retreat, with around ten guests coming from outside of Laramie, for people interested enough in this project to spend the weekend with us discussing cooperative culture and economics, income-sharing, ecological sustainable community, and how people live communally.

If, in the course of reading this, you have found yourself feeling that this is something you’d like to do, if it has spoken to your deep sense that a community like this is possible, necessary, and a place where you would thrive, you should get in touch with us. Joining would follow a careful and conscientious process and a mutual decision between you and the community. You would need to be committed to becoming a better, more cooperative person always, and doing what you are capable of doing to contribute. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it could very well be for you.

What we’re doing isn’t unique. There are thousands of intentional communities, including many income-sharing communities. But we know what we’re doing will make a difference for our membership, and we hope it will help shape a world that desperately needs this kind of re-shaping.

Matt Stannard is policy director at Commonomics USA and a founding member of the Laramie Ecovillage Group.