Friday, February 03, 2012

Wyoming's historic struggle: preserving vs. trashing its environment

We heard from Kate Wright of Wyoming Conservation Voters at a house gathering last night in east Cheyenne.

Kate talked about the WCV's 2011 Conservation Scorecard for the Wyoming Legislature. As expected, most legislators of both parties came up short when it comes to voting to preserve and protect one of the most beautiful environments in the world. Not surprisingly, the big money wielded by the energy speaks very loudly in the halls of the State Capitol. Severance taxes on coal, oil and gas pay Wyoming's bills. Legislators know it. When they forget, lobbyists from Encana and Peabody are there to remind them.
This will always be the case until Wyoming figures out alternative ways to pay the bills.

Tourism comes close. And tourism depends less on scenic oil wells and open pit mines than it does on towering mountains, crystal clean trout streams and waist-deep powder.

This is a traditional struggle in Wyoming. We're an "energy colony" for the U.S. and, increasingly, the rest of the world (coal for Australia and China). Tourists from China now make Wyoming a destination. A new housing development in China, located two hours north of Beijing, is called Jackson Hole and is based the the cute little Alpine village of Jackson, Wyoming. Or some sort of re-imagined version of Jackson. Isn't it fun to imagine a Wyoming-coal-fired suburb in China filled with people who can't wait to go to the Wyoming-coal-and-natural-gas powered village of Jackson, Wyo. While in our quaint energy colony, these tourists might want to take a side trip to the open pit coal mines of Campbell County. Industrial tourism is a growing trend. I know a number of people who've taken the coal mine tours and have been down into the deep trona mines of southwestern Wyoming. As a curious human being, how can you not be interested in the origins of the material that powers our laptop computers. I'm typing on one right now!

For the most part, tourists want scenic vistas. When they travel to scenic Sublette County, they want to ogle the Wind River or Gros Ventre Mountains, fish in Fremont Lake, hunt elk in the Upper Green River Basin. They also want to be able to breathe, which hasn't been easy with air pollution caused by oil and gas development in the Pinedale Anticline. Last winter, air pollution levels in Pinedale topped those in L.A.

Back to the Wyoming Conservation Voters. Check out its web site at Get a copy of the scorecard. In the Senate, some Repubs such as Tony Ross (Laramie), John Schiffer (Johnson/Sheridan) and Leland Christensen (Teton/Fremont) top those of Democrats Marty Martin (Sweetwater/Fremont) and Chris Rothfuss (Albany). In the House, however, Dems lead the way. You can't find a sorrier, more anti-environment group of Tea Party Republicans than those in Natrona County, home of Casper, "Oil City." These Natrona County Repubs are regressive in almost every imaginable way, so this is no surprise.

WCV will again be keeping score as the 2012 Legislature rolls into town. The org also will lobby for upcoming legislation, including the Aquatic Invasive Species Act, increased funding for the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, and bills promoting Public Records and Public Meetings.

WCV is a 501(c)4 and works for all of us. It also has an education arm, a 501(c)3.

Go to the web site and contribute. You'll be glad you did.

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