Bill Sniffin: Is It Time For Bold Action In Cowboy State?

Publisher Bill Sniffin writes: "We are so consumed with worries about our faltering economy and where to cut, cut, and cut some more -- well, there is no inclination to think about bold plans. So, what would be an example of a bold plan?"

Bill Sniffin

March 21, 20215 min read

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Even though the idea of Wyoming spending a billion dollars on a gigantic swath of land had some of us scratching our heads about one year ago – well, at least you had to give the project (and Gov. Mark Gordon) high marks for bold imagination.

That deal went away when a company outbid Wyoming.

But thinking back about that, it makes me wonder if Wyoming should be just a little brash.  Be a little bold. Just a bit?

Our leaders sometimes act like the proverbial guy who was up to his waist in alligators and forgot all about draining the swamp.

We are so consumed with worries about our faltering economy and where to cut, cut, and cut some more  — well, there is no inclination to think about bold plans.

So, what would be an example of a bold plan?

Now I do not claim to be the author if these ideas. These are just ideas people have mentioned to me over the years. For example:

Should Wyoming take control of the coal-fired power plants before they are finally closed?  Could they be more converted to natural gas?  We have lots of gas in Wyoming.  And if you believe electric car maker  Elon Musk, no less, there is no way the future can provide enough electricity for the needs he is envisioning.

If Musk is to be believed, this big rush to shut down coal and natural gas plants and replace them with wind and solar projects just does not provide enough juice to power the future. 

My friend Dan Brophy of Wilson says Musk is right. “I have a friend with a utility who tells me coal plant power is 95% available, wind power 30%. Plus, when you account for end to end costs, wind energy is massively more expensive and massively more destructive environmentally. The industry exists because of subsidies. Until cheap energy (battery) storage technology is developed, wind and solar will remain uncompetitive.”

Or, should we be bold and implement a huge statewide plan for more wind and solar?  Obviously private companies like Power Company of Wyoming and Rocky Mountain Power are shooting for the stars with their gigantic wind projects. Can it be even bigger?  We have the best wind in the country and maybe in the world. Is there even more we can do to promote it?

For a long time, Wyoming was the country’s largest producer of uranium.  What about a commitment to putting in some nuclear plants?  I am not talking about those massive Three Mile Island-type plants. We have had nuclear powered submarines and aircraft carriers for over 50 years using small nukes.  Should we be pushing for small nuclear installations using these super-safe small nuclear plants so Wyoming can continue to provide energy to the rest of the country?  Providing power to the country has been our bread and butter. Should we continue to try to fill that position, using nukes this time around?

We are a perfect location for massive computer server centers. Cheyenne already has several.  We also could serve as a great location for super computers.  They require cool weather. Cool wind is good. And Wyoming, especially around Cheyenne, has huge trunks of internet fiber. These will not employ so many people but cold provide tax monies.

It is hard for Wyoming to attract big 500-employee plants.  But it is easy for Cowboy State to attract 500 people who each individually work for their individual companies and bring their big salaries with them?

We need reliable internet service, good airline service, and nice small towns that are safe and forward- thinking. I think most Wyoming towns fit this description like Evanston, Afton, Cody, Powell, Lander, Riverton, Douglas, Buffalo, Sheridan, Newcastle, Gillette, and the bigger towns like Rock Springs, Laramie, Casper, and Cheyenne plus other places.  Our cities and towns are wonderful places with low taxes, good medical care, and wonderful places to eat.

Again, my friend Dan chimes in: “I think private capital and private innovators will see Wyoming for the advantages which fit into their plans and interests. It’s more important to create and continue an environment of low regulation and low to zero taxes than it is to decide which industries to court and subsidize.

“The federal tax burden will soon increase gigantically, making no state income tax more important than  ever and low regulations the same. Wyoming should make sure it is at the top of the list of the low-tax, low-reg destinations. Too many people fail to understand the importance of low regulations – it is a giant influence in decisions where to locate businesses.”

Another friend offers up a fairly powerful last word on this subject: “Wyoming isn’t likely to progress until we face the hard cold fact that SANTA (minerals) has gone away forever. As long as the ‘no tax pledge’ people dominate, there will be a steady decline in what Wyoming has to offer. Cutting budgets can go only so far.

“Regionalized medical services can reduce health insurance cost. School administration costs can be centralized with huge savings. This could result in specialization for different sized schools, finding ways to take advantage of technology to improve educational opportunities whether the senior class numbers 300 or seven.

“Right now, we are on a route to create a state with substandard services, no reserve funds, and damn little to attract anyone in terms of business.  Why attract a company with 500 employees if each one will consume more services than results from the taxes they will pay?”

These are just some musings from me and my friends.  What bold  ideas do you think would work for Wyoming?

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.