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Some Mountain West states rely heavily on fossil fuel revenues to pay for schools, roads

A large crane and digging equipment at an oil and gas operations site in Wyoming.
BLM Wyoming
Production from oil and gas developments, like this operation in Wyoming, generate significant energy-related revenues for communities in the West, according to Resources for the Future.

A new study looks into how fossil fuels and renewable energy fund local government services in several states, including some in the Mountain West.

Resources for the Future, a nonprofit research group, analyzed data from nearly 80 counties across 10 states: Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Montana, California, Texas, North Dakota, West Virginia, Ohio, and Alaska.

The group found oil, gas and coal account for 90% of energy-related revenues, which fund schools, roads, and other public services. Wind and solar make up only 2%, and the remaining 8% is unspecified.

States’ heavy reliance on fossil fuels – the main cause of climate change – for energy and revenue is incredibly concerning, said Daniel Raimi, a fellow at Resources for the Future and the study’s lead author.

“If we're going to meet our climate goals and keep the planet well suited for human flourishing, then production and revenues associated with fossil fuels are almost certainly going to decline,” Raimi said. “If that happens, that's going to create big challenges for local communities that depend on those revenues. Unless they start building economic diversification in their communities and building revenue diversification so that there are other sources to fund schools and roads.”

Another challenge is the amount of land needed for wind and solar development. Raimi said most of the counties they analyzed do not have enough developable land for renewables to generate the same amount of revenues as fossil fuels. As a result, those regions will need to develop new economic drivers and diversify the local tax base away from its current dependence on fossil fuels.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.

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