Members of Governor Stitt’s cabinet are making a concerted effort to forge partnerships with the Biden administration that could benefit Oklahoma. In fact, Secretary of Energy & Environment Ken Wagner was in the nation's capital this week in pursuit of such partnerships.
Oklahoma's congressional delegation has repeatedly cast the Biden administration's more climate-friendly energy policy, which would gradually reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels, as job-killing and unfriendly to oil and gas, the state's premier industry. Secretary Wagner said, so far, he's not seen any great harm to Oklahoma oil and gas. What he does see, he said in an interview Wednesday, is an opening.
"With great change comes opportunity," Secretary Wagner said, "and so you can focus on the negative that you can’t control, or you can focus on the positive that you can control."
In the case of Oklahoma, Wagner said, the positive is something that many of those he talks to in Washington don't expect, because the national perception is that Oklahoma is solely about fossil fuels.
"When people hear that we are one of only four states that gets more than 40 percent of its power generated from renewables," Wagner stated, "that’s a surprising story for them."
Wagner said, part of his mission right now is open Washington's eyes to what Oklahoma is doing with energy.
"I don’t want to say that I blow peoples’ minds, but it’s close," Wagner laughed.
The other, and ultimately more important part of his mission, is to create a relationship that turns into a partnership. Wagner said he is talking with his federal counterparts on a number of issues - from water infrastructure to grid modernization, and he said his outreach has been well-received.
"You can feel the excitement when they talk to us," Wagner explained, "in that we are actually working on priorities together, given that we are a deeply red state."
Still, the reality is that Oklahoma remains a state still deeply committed to and dependent on the oil and gas industry. Wagner certainly understands that, which is why he is particularly excited - and determined - to forge a partnership on the production of hydrogen, a major vehicle power source of the future. He said the process is one that would still rely on legacy oil and gas operations (for water, natural gas, trained workforce and storage capacity), but also satisfy the Biden administration's desire to move away from gas-powered cars.
"Hydrogen as a fuel, and alternative energy source," said Wagner, "is one of those areas that really plays well and maximizes these opportunities for Oklahoma."
A task force created this past session at the state Capitol to take a thorough look at future hydrogen production is scheduled to meet for the first time next week. Secretary Wagner is chairing the task force.