I loved growing up in Laramie, but the town has always felt a bit … stagnant. We don’t have much of an economy here aside from the University of Wyoming. Albany County is the poorest in the state, despite its educated workforce. “Economic development” often amounts to more low-wage service jobs and convincing chain stores to fill vacancies in the local strip mall.
Most people I knew growing up in Laramie moved to other states. Not long ago, I too joined the droves of young people who flee Wyoming in search of opportunity.
Today, I’ve moved back to Laramie to be closer to my family and to spend more time outdoors. I’m excited to return home and hope to be part of shaping a better future for our state. But I’m quickly finding that many of the forces that made me want to leave nearly a decade ago still exist.
Wyoming is still stubborn about trying new things, and it refuses to invest in its own future.
The Rail Tie Wind Project planned for southern Albany County offers Laramie a rare chance to start writing a new chapter. It would help create a new local industry and new jobs, produce clean energy. It would bring desperately needed tax revenue — something that our neighbors in Carbon and Laramie Counties already enjoy.
But it would also bring about change, which folks around here tend not to like.
Specifically, a small number of wealthy homeowners are working hard to block the Rail Tie project, claiming wind turbines will “forever ruin” their million dollar views.
I get it. Open landscapes and abundant wildlife are what a lot of us — including me — love about Wyoming. But it’s funny that people living in McMansions scattered across hilltops are the ones righteously defending them. Aren’t giant houses eyesores? Don’t rural subdivisions disrupt migration corridors?
Besides, there are more important things to our state’s future than these people’s backyard views. Fixing Wyoming’s broken economy is one of them. Doing our part to stop climate change is another. And, finally, there’s improving our state’s crappy attitude when it comes to trying new things.
For my entire life, Wyoming lawmakers have faced decisions where they could choose to support new industries, create new sources of tax revenue, and take steps to decrease Wyoming’s carbon output. But those things are all hard to do. The situation is never perfect, someone is always unhappy, and so our leaders find excuses to do nothing.
Guess who gets to deal with the consequences of these decisions? My generation. We are inheriting a crippling state budget crisis, a decades-long dependence on failing industries, a wildly outdated tax structure, and we will experience the most severe impacts of climate change.
Young people across political and ideological divides care about climate change — much more than our elders apparently realize — and we want to live in a place that does, too. Climate change is not something that will happen in the future. It’s happening right now, and we’re feeling the impacts in our communities.
You want to talk about spoiled views? The Mullen Fire just west of Laramie last fall saturated the town in smoke for months. I couldn’t see across the street some days, and forget about the surrounding mountains.
Wildfires and severe drought will only worsen until we take serious steps away from burning carbon for energy. Unfortunately, because of older generations’ inaction, we’ve run out of time to be super picky about how to fix Wyoming’s economy and how we transition to renewable energy. We need to act.
The clean power industry alone cannot breathe new life into Wyoming’s towns, solve our massive budget crisis, or reverse the course of climate change. But projects like Rail Tie are steps in the right direction, toward a future with sustainable job opportunities and a sustainable planet.
Rail Tie would provide local career paths for students studying to be wind turbine technicians at Laramie County Community College. It could build momentum for other forms of local clean power development. Albany County would earn new revenues for our schools and public services. Plus, supporting renewable energy jibes with the City of Laramie’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.
The clash over the Rail Tie project is emblematic of a bigger problem in Wyoming: resistance to change. The project’s success would demonstrate that Wyoming is willing to encourage, rather than stymie, new industries — even if a handful of loud, well-connected people oppose it.
But it’s failure would affirm that Wyoming is never apparently going to be ready for change. Our communities will continue to fall behind as we cling to the same old ideas that have been around forever — and this is precisely the kind of thing that tends to drive young people away.