New Political Wind Blowing in Wyoming

Over the summer I took my family on a "Wild West" vacation, starting in the small town of Buffalo, Wyoming and then driving across the wind-swept, wide open spaces to Yellowstone.  Along the trail, traveling through some barren yet beautiful landscapes, we passed several patches of solitary oil-rigs robotically bobbing up and down in the distance.  My 8-year old son imagined them to be T-Rex skeletons -- the boy now wears glasses, but that's neither here nor there.

The point is that I was struck by the stark contrast between the achingly gorgeous terrain that seemingly spans forever and the occasional cluster of industrial energy development that scars the land.  The oil rigs, in particular, seemed so primitive.  I wondered where the wind farms were -- the warm summer breeze mixed with the occasional storm-generated gale-force gusts certainly were a constant during our trip.  The lack of seemingly available clean, renewable energy sources seemed to me like a missed opportunity.

But it appears that the wind is finally blowing in a new direction in Wyoming.  Recently, the governor pledged to transition the Cowboy State from a traditional, fossil fuel-based energy economy to a green, renewable one.  The reason, said Gov. Dave Freudenthal, is that it is no longer acceptable to "do nothing" about the climate crisis.  Unlike some western politicians, Freudenthal not only believes that global warming is real, but that it requires real action -- that includes moving away from our over-reliance on burning fossil fuels for energy.

As the governor told a gathering of business leaders earlier this week, remaking Wyoming's energy portfolio is good not just for the environment but also for the state's economy.  To that end, he welcomes a federal cap on global warming pollution.  "If we're going to have the economy we want, we need to take a serious look at management of carbon," said Freudenthal.  "If we get this done, Wyoming is going to be a great place for our grandchildren.  If we don't get it done, it's going to be difficult."

The governor highlighted the incredible potential for wind energy in Wyoming.  He's right about that.  According to a new report by the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, the prospects for this clean power source are "outstanding" -- already county, state and federal agencies are inundated with wind energy development proposals.  The report lays out a blueprint for installing wind turbines and new transmission lines in a way that avoids damaging Wyoming's sensitive lands, iconic viewsheds and wildlife habitat.

Thankfully, it appears that the winds of change are blowing across the old West.