City Climate Corner

Laramie WY: Coal Country Climate Action

Episode Summary

39% of the nation's coal comes from Wyoming. Yet there are some strong local movements for renewable energy and climate action. Learn how a unique and powerful coalition of climate activists, university students, and city officials inspired Laramie's recent commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. We interview Monika Leininger of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, Professor Rachael Budowle of the University of Wyoming, and Laramie City Council member Brian Harrington.

Episode Notes

39% of the nation's coal comes from Wyoming. Yet there are some strong local movements for renewable energy and climate action. Learn how a unique and powerful coalition of climate activists, university students, and city officials inspired Laramie's recent commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. We interview Monika Leininger of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, Professor Rachael Budowle of the University of Wyoming, and Laramie City Council member Brian Harrington.


Episode Transcription


Abby Finis  00:02

Cities produce more than sixty percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Big cities get a lot of attention, but most household emissions in the US actually come from communities outside urban cores, making them critical players in climate mitigation and climate justice. City Climate Corner explores how these small and mid-sized cities are tackling climate change and moving toward an equitable and sustainable future. 

Abby Finis  00:21

I'm Abby Finis.

Larry Kraft  00:22

And I'm Larry Kraft. We're co-hosts for City Climate Corner. 

Abby Finis  00:29

Hey Larry!

Larry Kraft  00:30

Hey Abby!

Abby Finis  00:32

What is the worst thing you could imagine getting in your stocking around the holiday season?

Larry Kraft  00:38

Let's see, coal.

Abby Finis  00:41

Yeah, probably coal. Why?

Larry Kraft  00:45

Well, it's dirty. It gets on everything. And, when you burn it, it pollutes the atmosphere.

Abby Finis  00:55

It's also kind of lost its value these days. It's on its way out.

Larry Kraft  01:00

But, there are some parts of the country where it's still popular.

Abby Finis  01:05

Coal has certainly had a strong foothold in electricity production for a long time now and has served its purpose really well, right? But, we are seeing that it's one of the more expensive energy sources with renewables being cheaper. That's not even to factor in what we pay in terms of our health, especially for those who live near coal plants. I think what we're starting to see is this transition away from coal, which is going to have major economic impacts on the communities that both mine it and communities that maybe have coal plants nearby.

Larry Kraft  01:46

And, where is the state that produces the most coal?

Abby Finis  01:50

Well, the state that produces the most coal is Wyoming. Thirty-nine percent of the US coal comes from the state of Wyoming.

Larry Kraft  02:02

Wow! And, it's the largest per capita energy user as well, isn't it?

Abby Finis  02:07

It is, yep. The Wyoming economy is pretty heavily dependent on coal mining, at a time where we're seeing the shift away from coal.

Larry Kraft  02:21

This episode, we're talking to folks from Laramie, Wyoming. Laramie is about 32,000 people, which might not seem that large, but it's actually the fourth largest city in Wyoming. It's in the southeast corner of the state, about fifty miles west of Cheyenne. And, even in the middle of coal country, there's some really interesting things going on there.

Abby Finis  02:44

Yeah, we're talking to some really good folks who are pushing against the economic forces that are alive and well in Wyoming to try to get ahead of the change. You actually identified Laramie as a potential city to talk through in conversations with ICLEI, right?

Larry Kraft  03:04

And ICLEI, for those who don't know, is Local Governments for Sustainability. They support a lot of cities and counties that are doing climate action plans and things like that. I had connected with them to let them know about our podcast. The person that is involved in communications there, Sarah Ditton, said, "Hey, you should really talk to this guy, Tom Herrod, who's been working with folks in some mountain towns, but also in Laramie, Wyoming." When I spoke to Tom about our podcast he said, "You need to talk to Monika in Laramie," and that was how the connection was made.

Abby Finis  03:42

Well, let's travel west.

Start of Interview

Larry Kraft  03:46

Alright, we're here with three great guests involved with some really interesting things in Laramie, Wyoming: Monika Leininger, Rachael Budowle, and Brian Harrington. I'll let the three of you introduce yourselves. Monika, why don't we start with you?

Monika Leininger  04:01

Hello, everyone! And, hello listeners! My name is Monika Leininger and I work with a Wyoming conservation organization called Powder River Basin Resource Council. I'm very lucky to staff an affiliate group of our members in Laramie called Alliance for Renewable Energy of Laramie, which has really been an integral group in pushing Laramie towards a carbon neutral future.

Larry Kraft  04:27

Brian, why don't you go next.

Brian Harrington  04:29

Sure. Thanks, Abby and Larry for having us this morning. My name is Brian Harrington. I'm a member of the Laramie City Council. One of the members fortunate enough to be working really pretty directly on some of this climate policy.

Larry Kraft  04:43

And Rachael.

Rachael Budowle  04:45

My name is Rachael Budowle. I'm an assistant professor in the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming. My research focuses on community resilience and sustainability. I'm an anthropologist by training. I primarily work in communities in the Mountain West and Wyoming. I also teach our Sustainability courses and some Project Based and Community Engaged courses in the Haub School, including the Campus Sustainability course, where me and my students have been lucky to collaborate with the Alliance for Renewable Energy and the City of Laramie. 

Energy in Wyoming

Abby Finis  05:23

Great, welcome to you all. Thanks for joining us. Let's start with gaining a little bit of understanding about energy in Wyoming. Monika, can you provide some context around the energy economy and policy outlook at the state level?

Monika Leininger  05:36

Wyoming has a really interesting story and a long intense relationship with the energy industry. We're one of the top coal producing states in the nation. A previous figure is that we produce more coal than Russia and some international giants in the coal producing world. We also are pretty heavily dependent on our coal severance taxes and property taxes. The same with oil and gas severance taxes and property taxes. They pay a big chunk of our state budget, which helps to fund education, public services, public employees, and also helps to fund municipalities through a direct distribution that cities like Laramie really rely on. 

Monika Leininger  06:28

But, as you can imagine, with growing concern about climate change, coal is decreasing every year. Less and less people want coal on the grid and favor renewable energy options, which are also the lower cost options right now. Unfortunately, this has really had a hard impact on Wyoming because we don't have a well diversified tax base. Like I said, we really are dependent on that money that comes from extraction. We don't have an income tax. We have a relatively low sales and use tax. We also are a very conservative state. Our fluency and understanding why we need taxes is probably less here than in a lot of places. It seems really unlikely to change. 

Monika Leininger  07:21

Right now, we're faced with coal mines going out of business, big coal bankruptcies. I don't know if people heard about the Blackjewel bankruptcy two summers ago, where the coal company essentially locked their doors and five hundred employees were laid off. Many didn't get their last paycheck or had to appeal to get their last paycheck. We are really concerned about the future of funding our state budget and funding education and these services when we don't have another option there to fill that void. It doesn't mean that Wyoming's not doing anything about it, we are kind of on the other side of embracing renewable energy and embracing action on climate change. We're still, as I put it, in the phase of denial, where we believe that if we push hard enough that we can bring coal back. And, we believe that this is just another bust in our long boom and bust history. But, I think many of us here today know that that's likely not the case.

Abby Finis  08:25

Sure. The way you frame that up is really important. Wyoming is an exporter of this energy as well, right? Oregon and Washington are going one hundred percent carbon free, renewable, I think in both those cases, and we're also seeing Idaho, Utah, and cities there pushing for climate action. It's only going to snowball the impact for Wyoming's economy. 

Financial Impact on Laramie and other Wyoming cities

Abby Finis  08:52

Brian, what does that mean for Laramie? What does that look like for you all as you set out your budgets? 

Brian Harrington  08:59

That's the big question from the seat I hold. It is incredibly hard for us to plan our constitutionally required balanced budget knowing that things may shift every two years in really pretty dramatic fashion. We are, as a municipality, heavily reliant on that state direct distribution. It's not just our municipalities, it's our counties as well. Really, every local government in the state, all ninety-nine municipalities are incredibly dependent on that funding and it feels ever in flux. 

Brian Harrington  09:31

We're seeing sort of at a state level, really deficient budgets on the revenue end of things, which, rather than look at an increase in revenue, we're looking at deep cuts that will inevitably affect services that we're able to provide to our residents. No person in political office wants to be the person who cuts services to their residents. We're going to be the ones to hear about it first, before the statewide electeds or our legislatures. 

Brian Harrington  10:00

The insecurity of it is the hardest part. From my own personal opinion, knowing that it's unlikely that coal comes back, certainly to historic levels, I think that's almost a certainty, but to any level that might be profitable enough to fund municipalities and school districts and things of that sort, knowing that we're doing nothing about it is a bleak picture. 

Brian Harrington  10:27

We've made a mistake and we just get to wait a few years before we feel the most dramatic impacts of it. But, we're not going to change our course between now and then is how it feels a lot of the time.

Rachael Budowle  10:38

Just another piece of the puzzle is that the University of Wyoming is our singular four year university in the state. We're the flagship land-grant university  and we're also extremely dependent on revenue from the fossil fuel industry and at the state level.

Abby Finis  10:57

You're in the state of denial, the next state is kind of acceptance, right? What does that look like for renewable energy and thinking about this transition away from fossil fuels? 

Abby Finis  11:09

Monika, you work with a number of cities. What are you seeing? Are these conversations getting easier? Are people starting to think about pursuing some of these renewable energy options?

Monika Leininger  11:21

I do think it's easier in the sense that City Councillors like Brian and across Wyoming are looking at the local budgets and saying this isn't going to work, we have to do something. There's been a little bit less cognitive dissonance on the local level, to where local cities are waking up and saying this is the future and embracing renewable energy, and embracing climate action planning, and embracing the jobs and diversification that can come from that transition, can actually be a really good thing for our city. The one way that they can be proactive on this just transition question is by embracing renewable energy. 

Monika Leininger  12:12

I do think that cities in Wyoming are waking up, but we also have a lot of rural towns throughout Wyoming that I think may not be there yet. I don't want to speak for cities as a whole, but I know that there's several in Wyoming that are really embracing options for transition.

University of Wyoming and the students role in Laramie

Abby Finis  12:33

The University of Wyoming is in Laramie and I understand there is ongoing student involvement in the climate work in Laramie. And, the University itself being probably one of the larger contributors, relative to other users in the City. Can you tell us a bit about the University's role and the students' role and what's been going on there?

Rachael Budowle  12:56

The University of Wyoming, in the early 2000s, joined the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment. Our then President really wanted to demonstrate that we could stand alongside our peer institutions with regard to climate action planning and reducing our emissions even in an extraction based state. And, maybe that would look a little bit different than other universities. Maybe a focus on efficiency and maybe some large scale behavioral change alongside some modest renewables. 

Rachael Budowle  13:29

The past couple of years, we have actually stepped away from that Climate Action Commitment. Our Climate Action Plan is essentially defunct. That happened amidst the last round of major budget cuts and leadership changes. Now what we're seeing is that the City of Laramie and our community are out in front of us in terms of climate action planning and commitments, and really demonstrating some leadership. 

Rachael Budowle  13:58

I'm really grateful that our students have been a large part of that. But, it's an opportunity for the University of Wyoming to reexamine its own commitments and maybe work with the City and community in terms of commitments and some shared strategies around emissions reduction. This is further challenged, as it is many college towns, with sometimes fraught town-gown relationships. The University has a lot of power, money, and influence in the town and more broadly. And again, I think the students' work really represents an opportunity to change those relationships and make them stronger. 

Rachael Budowle  14:43

Very early on when the Alliance for Renewable Energy was just forming and starting some of its work, they visited us in the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and asked how we could be involved. Instantly we thought of some of the great community engaged work students in the Campus Sustainability course do on a regular basis. In that course, students work in teams on these really focused projects that are designed with and for campus and community mentors. We're in our fourth year of partnership, but students have worked with both the City of Laramie and the Alliance for Renewable Energy on a series of Climate Action Planning projects; including greenhouse gas emissions inventories, to help us really understand where we're at both in terms of municipal operations, but also community wide, and how the University fits into that, starting to design those Climate Action Plans. Most recently, one of the projects that we're really proud about is a joint University-community project that was really a campaign around how students could encourage the University to get involved in these local Climate Action Planning efforts and be a good partner.

Monika Leininger  16:05

These students have been so incredibly impressive to work with. And, having the youth and students lead and put these projects forward that they're excited about, and they see potential in, has made the City really excited to work with the students. 

Monika Leininger  16:29

Through these projects, these students are getting real-life experience and professional experience in emerging fields that are really important to students these days. Through the partnership with the Haub School, the Haub School has funded internships with the City of Laramie, where student interns have worked over the summer to update our carbon emissions inventory or to work on furthering our municipal Climate Action Plan outline. And on ARE, our Alliance for Renewable Energy Board, we have a student serving on there now and in the past have had students. It's really giving students the opportunity to get professional, real-life experience working with organizations, communities, and businesses.

Abby Finis  17:21

We really love to hear that in the tangible benefits that go along with that and wondering, have you seen those intangible benefits? Oftentimes, youth will be able to deflate the partisanship of the climate conversation. 

Abby Finis  17:36

Brian, have you seen that in Laramie?

Brian Harrington  17:39

Having the involvement of the students at the University was really significant. In regards to making this an issue that was sort of community wide, rather than just like some progressive agenda item. It did really remove the partisanship from it. They also were able to provide a lot of tangible, economic benefits by doing this. The statewide picture that we discussed earlier, this reliance on particular industries and the funding from those to fund our cities and towns, the economic benefits can be overstated. To some extent, it's an ability for us to do some funding ourselves, or have some sort of self-reliance. Those things became pretty clear with some of the work from the Haub School students. Through their admissions calculator and through some of the inventorying, inventorying is definitely not a word, but I'm going to go ahead and use it. But, through some of that, it really did start to paint the picture of it being a wise budgetary consideration to move this direction, as well as good stewardship of the environment in the future.

Abby Finis  18:53

Rachel, did you want to add on to that?

Rachael Budowle  18:55

Yeah! A lot of the research on the role that universities can play in these regional sustainability transitions, we often see that it's high-level administrators that are at the forefront. What's really cool about Laramie's approach and the University of Wyoming's involvement through the students, is that the students are changing that script and they are the change agents. They're actually playing this really amazing catalyzing and bridging role between the community and the University. Also setting an example for how we could do this in other communities statewide.

The carbon neutrality resolution

Larry Kraft  19:34

Love that! I was noticing Brian, that Laramie passed this resolution for carbon neutrality by 2050. I noticed that it was adopted in early March 2020. 

Brian Harrington  19:46


Larry Kraft  19:47

Quite a time. 

Brian Harrington  19:48


Larry Kraft  19:48

To pass something like that. That was just before COVID fully arrived. How did it happen? Was it contentious? I do see it was unanimous. Can you give us some background?

Brian Harrington  19:58

Yeah, great question! It was a weird time. I think legitimately that might be the last crowd I was in before the pandemic. It was potentially our last meeting before shifting to Zoom. 

Brian Harrington  20:12

Surprisingly, it was not terribly contentious. Because of a lot of the work of the Alliance for Renewable Energy and the Haub School headed off some of the contention early on and was able to make the case for Council Members who may not have been your expected, traditional ally in something like this. They had their wins in there, too. Because we made that economic picture so clear and because of some of the dynamic in Wyoming, specifically, there were pieces that were a little easier to make the economic argument on. 

Brian Harrington  20:47

Because we had that accomplished ahead of time, it was not a terribly contentious vote. I think every Council Member was excited to vote on it. And, it's still the only time on Council that I have received a standing ovation after a vote. I think it's something our community wanted us to do and I think that made it easier to understand and easier to vote "Yes" on. I don't think we had one negative comment about it from the public, which is hard to do on anything. I don't think we had a single email saying, "You were fools for doing this." Everybody was supportive. I think it's something our community wants us to do as a governing body. We were fortunate to have a lot of help in getting to the, I don't want to call it the finish line, it sort of feels like the starting line, but getting there without all of this additional assistance from these partners, would not have gone so smoothly.

Larry Kraft  21:38

That's fantastic! I love that ovation story. 

Brian Harrington  21:42


Local activists role (Alliance for Renewable Energy)

Larry Kraft  21:43

Monika, can you tell us more about the Alliance for Renewable Energy and what its role was? I understand that you founded this a few years ago.

Monika Leininger  21:52

Thanks, Larry! I definitely can't take all credit for founding this. Sometimes I like to blame it on one of our Powder River Basin Resource Council Members. Our ARE board member, Harold Bergman, who I just sat down with for coffee one day, said, "You know what Laramie should do? You should be the leader in climate action." I started doing some research and Laramie had actually passed some sort of resolution. It was back in 2008 to take action on climate and to meet, some sort of climate action goal, but it was a part of the Cool Cities' Pledge. It didn't seem like anything was happening with that or Laramie ever followed up on those ambitions. Through talking with our members, we decided to make it happen and to really be that that citizen face, that garner support, that gets people to show up and gets people excited. 

Monika Leininger  22:57

Alliance for Renewable Energy started about three years ago, I think, three and a half. At this point, it'll be four this fall. We just met monthly and we really focused a lot on the economic side of things and how there were grants and funding out there that can help the City maximize the effectiveness of the taxpayers' dollar essentially. We didn't talk a lot about climate change, even though we are obviously all really passionate about climate change. We wanted it to be something that is appealing to both Conservatives and Democrats. And unfortunately, climate change still tends to be a hard issue to discuss here in Wyoming because of what we've talked about earlier: our state's dependence on the fossil fuel industry. 

Monika Leininger  23:47

From there, we did a couple of things. We hit the ground at the farmers market and had as many people as possible sign a pledge that they would support Laramie taking action to be carbon neutral. We then worked with the Haub School and got the students really leading the side of the technical emissions reduction planning work. You can't become a carbon neutral city if you don't know how much carbon emissions you have currently. Establishing a baseline was really important. But, then we wanted to present to both City Council and then other stakeholders in the community, such as the Airport Board, city staff, and local utilities and talk to them about how other cities have made this transition and made investments in renewable energy. It's been really awesome and fruitful for those community members. 

Monika Leininger  24:48

From there, we just have done as much as we can to bolster support and the City Council meeting that Brian's talking about was insane. It was a packed house. There was an overflow room in the basement and standing room only. I think having people turnout and show that kind of excitement and that kind of support, I mean, I wouldn't want to be a City Council Member that voted no to that room. 

Larry Kraft  25:15

That's great! I'm getting chills from hearing about that City Council meeting.

A climate action “beginning” in Laramie

Larry Kraft  25:19

Brian, I appreciated how you said before that the resolution wasn't an end it was really a beginning. Acknowledging that it's a tough time, but, how has it been a beginning?

Brian Harrington  25:31

The first thing I would say is that it has been a strange year. In a lot of ways that was problematic until we got our feet under us. It has since become a pretty advantageous time for us to get started on some things because we were already really taking a hard look at our budget and reevaluating the processes in the City itself. And, our resolution does call out two separate pillars. One being municipal operations and the City as a body and then the general public. Both aimed at 2050, but with different steps along the way, recognizing the public may be a little bit slower to be able to follow on. 

Brian Harrington  26:12

There are the ten tangible things, installing solar panels on some municipal buildings, things like that, that are going to be ongoing, but have already started to occur. We're building a new Municipal Operation Center that will house our Public Works. Currently, it's been a long time project, but this resolution really encouraged our staff to feel okay with adapting that Plan to be a little bit more energy efficient. As you can likely guess, a city at 7,200 feet in Wyoming is coal. Increased installation, more solar efficiency through the windows and passive heat. Then even things like separating off the working bays for the Public Works Department and the storage areas to be entirely separate, so that they can be climate controlled in a different way and run quite a bit cooler than where people might be working in an office. It really allowed our staff to do some of that. 

Brian Harrington  27:07

It's a little bit more intangible, but I think the most significant thing this resolution has done is build it into the budgeting process so that every time we're purchasing a new fleet vehicle or doing really anything, buying a new lawnmower for the Parks Department, this resolution is part of that conversation. Rather than building one department that oversees what's your climate policy, and how's this gonna play out, it has really affected every Department Head, and it's now a part of the conversation for everything we do. 

Brian Harrington  27:38

Every single item we've had come forward, at least one Council Member has asked about any sort of efficiencies or that sort of an idea on a vehicle or a new building. Building that into the whole system will pay the most dividends later because every department is on board now, from the Landfill to the Parks Department.

Larry Kraft  28:02

I really resonate with that. I often think that what needs to happen with climate, at every level of government, is it needs to be that lens with which we view everything that happens at local, state, and national levels. 

State level work

Larry Kraft  28:19

Monika, shifting now a little bit to the state level, when I first connected with you, you were neck deep in state level policy work. How are you working on a state level and dealing with these state level policies that may inhibit climate and clean energy action at a local level?

Monika Leininger  28:43

Unfortunately, it's not just us here in Wyoming. This past year, I saw several bills that were ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council, which are boiler plate bills that come from a conservative think tank that get into legislator's hands, directly targeted at the ability for local municipalities to take action on climate change. I saw several different ones from plastic bag ban bans, we're banning you from banning plastic bags, to banning cities from being able to electrify new buildings. This is basically coming from the petroleum industry lobby saying that we will all need to continue to have gas hookups forever for new buildings. 

Monika Leininger  29:35

I really worry about bills, like we've seen the past couple of years, targeted at net metering and reducing the payoff for distributed solar because as Brian has noted, the City of Laramie has made investments in rooftop solar. The idea that we're going to do away with the ability for cities, nonprofits, homeowners, or businesses to collect money off the excess electricity they produce, because it hurts utility profits, is really concerning to me. 

Monika Leininger  30:12

I worry probably the most about conservatives just saying that cities can't have climate action policies and a bill like that coming through. That's really opposite of what we see ourselves to be here in Wyoming. We see ourselves to be this independent, Libertarian state, we look after each other, we take care of our own. Yet, we're seeing all of these policies, pass or not, thankfully a lot of the ones I mentioned did not pass this past year, but they are targeted at keeping individual cities from doing what they want. 

Monika Leininger  30:51

On the broader level, there's a lot of really problematic policies regarding energy going through Wyoming State Legislature. We've passed several laws that inhibit the ability for early retirement of coal fired power plants. We've passed laws to sue the State of Washington for not letting us export our coal. Unfortunately, I think we're going in the wrong direction at the state level. There's going to have to be a time where municipalities like Laramie, like Lander, like Jackson, like Sheridan, want to make their own choices on renewable energy and have to really be at the table and push for their ability to do that.

Next steps

Abby Finis  31:34

Brian, when talking about the climate resolution, you said, "It's not the finish line, it's the start line." What are the next steps for each of you? What's going on at the University? What's going on for Alliance for Renewable Energy? What's going on at Laramie? Let's start with Rachel.

Rachael Budowle 31:49

I am so grateful, again, for the partnership that we have with Alliance for Renewable Energy and the City of Laramie. Before talking about the next year of partnership, I really want to shout out, in addition to Monika being such a great mentor to our students, Darren Parkin. He's a city employee who has worked tirelessly with our students and on these issues. We couldn't have done it without him. I think the next step is to continue to partner with these mentors and our other stakeholders. 

Rachael Budowle  32:18

For another round of projects in the Campus Sustainability course next year, really specifically one thing we're looking at is the potential for a community-University task force that equitably includes students in that conversation. And, how we can start to identify these strategies that would benefit emissions reduction and financial savings both at the University and in the community. And, possibly holding a summit where we can start to really hash out some of the strategies at our Shephard Symposium on Social Justice next year or another venue. 

Rachael Budowle  32:55

I think Monika and Darren and I will put our heads together very soon to start planning for spring projects. We are supporting a student intern this summer through some funding that we received through Rocky Mountain Power Foundation and the Haub School to continue to work on climate action planning in the City.

Abby Finis  33:17

What's ahead for you Monika?

Monika Leininger  33:19

Alliance for Renewable Energy of Laramie is still going strong. We still meet monthly and we still have a lot of work. We are really passionate about building off of some work from a student group this past semester that did a lot of research on local incentives for renewable energy at the local, state and federal level. Probably less so state based off what I said earlier, but we really want to help with the side that Brian mentioned of push the community in the same direction that the City is taking. The City is budgeting and making investments and taking action. We want the community to be in line with that. We are trying to get it out there, let more people know about us. Right now we have a good chunk of people in Laramie that really support our work. But, we've had people that live in Albany County tell us you really need to bring this county-wide and need to take action on the county level. That's something we're considering as well. 

Abby Finis  34:22

Brian, what's ahead for you and what advice do you have for other communities in Mountain West states?

Brian Harrington  34:29

Probably what is most directly ahead, given that this plan is already pretty integrated into the City, and we have a phenomenal City Manager who has built this into the whole system, I would like to start focusing on how do we project our ability to bulk buy things to do things in a more systemic way. How do we really enable the community to participate in that? I want to start focusing on how to get the City broadly, the residents of Laramie, to carbon neutral. That will be the biggest second piece. And then, I'd like to try to figure out a way that we can end up being in a negative situation, given the ability for Laramie to power our city with solar and wind. There's two specific examples, given that, we could be at a sort of net zero quicker than 2050. If that is the case, and I think it's entirely possible that is the case, if we get there, I'd like to see us still continue to reduce emissions and try to put ourselves in a negative position. 

Brian Harrington  35:34

The advice I would give is really to focus first on building the team. I think the reason this worked in Laramie, and is going to continue to work into the future, is because we built a coalition. I didn't build it, Monika and Rachael built it, along with a whole bunch of others. Having that team, was the most important thing that we did. And like Monika said, it took took a few years. We built a foundation that we could build on. I think that was the most important thing we have done and then having students involved is probably the most dynamic piece. You get a bunch of administrators involved and all the roadblocks come up, right? We all know all of the things that could go wrong and who might be mad if we do something. Students either don't know that or are not really concerned with that part. Having them involved was really dynamic and it amplified the pace a little bit as well.

Larry Kraft  36:30

Anything else any of you would like to share?

Monika Leininger  36:34

Laramie is a great place. People should come and visit Wyoming. We're a lovely state that has a lot to offer to the country. Come see us! Also, there's new solar panels up near the Rec Center through a Blue Sky Grant. That's pretty exciting!

Rachael Budowle  36:54

I'll add that no matter what side of the political aisle you're on in Wyoming, everyone here has a deep love for the land. That's some of the stuff that we focus on in these efforts and where that common ground is, in loving our landscape.

Larry Kraft  37:11

What a great story of this coalition and student, community, and Council involvement. It comes together so well. Really inspiring!

Abby and Larry debrief

Abby Finis  37:26

All right, so we just finished up with folks from Laramie, Wyoming. What stood out to you, Larry?

Larry Kraft  37:34

Oh, a number of things. There's so much in this is. The first thing I'll say is Brian talking about that the resolution was significant, but it was the beginning. I think that often the tough question is what's next, right? And to make sure that these kinds of symbolic things don't wind up sitting on the shelf. I was encouraged by a number of things like hearing some of the different specific measures they were taking, but the most important thing that I heard was the part of his answer when he said that what's happening is that every Council Member is starting to ask climate questions about most everything that comes before them. And that it's being built into each of the Department's work.

Abby Finis  38:22

Yeah, that's exactly what needs to happen. In all of these communities where they've adopted climate action plans. You need to have it ingrained in how you deliver your services because if it's just sitting in the Sustainability Office, with somebody who doesn't necessarily have the authority to implement everything, it's only going to lead to some incremental change in different areas here and there. But, when you really get it ingrained from your elected officials on down, that gives you some big momentum to move forward and be a little bit bolder with your actions.

Larry Kraft  39:00

Another thing that I really liked hearing was about the youth involvement. We've talked up to this time, a lot of times, about high school students. But, this is different. It's college students. I think what they're doing is brilliant. They're providing this very tangible, valuable work for the City and gaining professional experience that will help them in their careers. But, you also hear how just them being involved provides that moral, rallying force that helps to melt away potential partisan issues.

Abby Finis  39:33

It's critical when you're in the economic standoff that cities are in, in states where either their economy is dependent on fossil fuels, like Wyoming's is, or they have governments in place that are resistant to transition into renewable energy sources. Any way that you can maneuver that to talk about whether it's the moral imperative of acting on climate change, or in Laramie's case, in Wyoming's case, it's very much an economic imperative to not get stuck holding all of the coal while everybody that you've been exporting to has abandoned that. You've got to transition to those cleaner, newer sources of energy and technology. It goes back to conversations that we've had in past episodes about the just transition and making sure that those who are mining coal have a transition to the clean energy economy as well. It's encouraging to see that argument from the economic standpoint as well.

Larry Kraft  40:47

I read somewhere that the drop off in the amount of money that flows from coal to the local governments in counties across Wyoming over the past five or ten years is something like thirty to forty percent less. I mean, it's significant. The financial argument is really important. Not to just make up the hole in the budgets, but as you talked about as well, how do you provide a transition for people? That just transition, for those who have been doing great work for us in helping to power our country, to be able to transition to other things.

Larry Kraft  41:21

I also was impressed with Monika. You could hear her making this powerful, but very pragmatic, argument to the Wyoming State Legislators about their libertarian streak and individualistic and that they should be able to do locally what they want to do when they're talking about preempting local economies from doing what they need to do. I really liked the way they're focusing on the financial and bringing the message in it to a very Wyoming sort of way.

Abby Finis  41:49

Well, they have a lot of work cut out for them and they're doing a lot of pretty amazing things. But, like Brian said, it's the start line. It's not the finish line. They're going in eyes wide open. 

Abby Finis  42:04

We hope you enjoyed this episode of City Climate Corner. If you like what you're hearing, make sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you're able, become a monthly supporter through Patreon. As always, you can find more information on this topic and resources from each episode's guests on our webpage If you have an idea for the show, send us an email at or find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Larry Kraft  42:28

City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis and me, Larry Kraft. Edited by me. Music by 

Abby Finis  42:34

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Larry Kraft  42:36

Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time!