By Robert A. Vella
Idaho and Wyoming are sister states. Not only are they next-door neighbors in the rugged U.S. Mountain West, they share similar histories, culture, demographics, geography, climate, and much more. What they don’t have in common is a particular natural resource widely used for energy since the Industrial Revolution. Idaho doesn’t have much coal, but Wyoming has an abundance of it in the Powder River Basin. That this single difference could result in these two sister states going in opposite economic directions speaks volumes about the way Americans, and perhaps all of humanity, conduct their business and run their affairs.
Idaho’s population is booming, Wyoming is losing people at the fastest rate in the nation, and their respective GDP’s reflect this trend. It would be encouraging to think that the leaders of Idaho wisely diversified their economy, in contrast with the leaders of Wyoming, but that probably isn’t the case. If Idaho had exploitable coal deposits, it would likely be in the same situation as Wyoming is today.
Coal, by far the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, is on pace to be the first major industry wiped-out by climate change. It is a very inefficient source of energy, dangerous to extract (for mine workers), expensive to transport, no longer cost-competitive with natural gas and clean energy alternatives (see: ‘Spectacular’ drop in renewable energy costs leads to record global boost), and a political liability to boot. It is also ironic – or, poetic justice – that the fate of Big Coal should be realized by its own hand (the Trump Administration’s move to save it, notwithstanding), for coal was the fuel which initially triggered global warming.
Further reading: Why people really want to move to Idaho but are fleeing Wyoming