Rod Miller: Trains, Cows & Nukes

in Column/Rod Miller

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By Rod Miller, columnist

Wyoming’s economic history is full of scandals and sketchy characters. It seems as if every boom brought with it some headline-grabbing fiasco that ranged from seedy to downright deadly. And yet, each time that happened, the economic life of the state took a great leap forward.

Here’s a partial list. The construction of the transcontinental railroad served to link Wyoming with the rest of the country and the world, and ushered us into the industrial age. But the names of two of the principals involved in that project, Thomas Durant and Oakes Ames, will be forever tarnished by the Credit Mobilier scandal. Fraud against taxpayers on a massive scale was committed, careers were trashed and people went to jail.

In spite of that trainwreck, nobody in Wyoming today will tell you that the Union Pacific Railroad was a bad idea, or that we should have insisted it be built somewhere else.

Likewise, nobody has ever claimed that the range cattle industry was anything but an economic building block of the State of Wyoming, or hasn’t served to help populate our home state and create our ethos. We are, after all, the Cowboy State.

Yet T. A. Larsen, our revered historian, has called the Johnson County War “the most notorious event in our history”. That conflict, instigated by members of Wyoming Stockgrowers Association elites, some of whom were our state’s founders, involved those men hiring outside gunslingers to accompany them to northern Wyoming to kill small ranchers and settlers in order to keep the state’s rangeland firmly in the hands of the bigwig cattle barons.

Add to the list the Teapot Dome scandal, wherein a sitting U.S. cabinet official was fitted for an orange jumpsuit because he conspired with Big Oil to defraud the government. Yet nobody in their right mind would claim that oil and gas exploration hasn’t been an economic boon to Wyoming.

When the Rockefellers were buying up ranchland in Jackson Hole to turn over to the government in order to create Teton National Park and the JDR Parkway, they were castigated as commie land-grabbers. But today nobody will deny the incredible economic boon to the state resulting from that act.

Enter Bill Gates and Warren Buffet with their plan to site a small, modern nuclear reactor somewhere in Wyoming. As soon as the plan was announced, the Sagebrush Telegraph was filled with vituperative invective against Gates as a U.N. One-Worlder Lizard Person who is only coming to Wyoming to harvest baby parts.

Don’t misunderstand, I am no fan of Bill Gates. I will never forgive him for Windows 10, but c’mon folks! If we are able to look past John Clay et al and the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association’s killing foray into Johnson County, we should at least hear Gates out on his plan.

I, for one, am willing to give this nuke plan a good think.

I grew up in Rawlins around a couple of Wyoming’s nuclear pioneers, Dr. C. W. Jeffrey, the namesake of Jeffrey City, and restaurateur Bob Adams, who took the advice of Dave Love, eminent Cowboy State geologist, and geiger-countered for uranium deposits in the Sweetwater River country right after WWII. Needless to say, they each made a lot of money.

I used to visit Doc Jeff’s office to get my physical for football and wresting in my younger Outlaw days. The office was up a couple of flights of rickety stairs in an old edifice in downtown Rawlins, and if an aspiring athlete could climb the stairs, Doc Jeff would sign the release.

But I digress. Back to Bill Gates’ nuke plant.

As a state, lets overcome our fear for a moment and dispassionately consider this idea. To me, it is a much more positive and productive move than suing other states who don’t want to burn Wyoming coal for their electric power.

To reject it out of hand would be akin to digging in our heels and saying keep that disruptive railroad, or those pesky Texas cattle out of our state because we don’t like the folks associated with such nonsense. Regardless of the personalities involved with bringing a nuclear power plant to Wyoming, we need to consider the proposal on its merits.

Now, permit me a word or two about Governor Mark Gordon. Since meeting him on the dusty ol’ campaign trail, and taking an immediate liking to the guy, I’ve followed his administration with great interest.

Up until now, I have considered his tenure in office as pretty much a place-holder…no big triumphs, no disasters. In fairness, Gordon assumed office in a difficult and weird time, and I think has done his honest best. But I’ve waited for a break-out, cowboy move on his part. This is it.

Governor Gordon’s willingness to look beyond the horizon to Wyoming’s energy future, in my view, negates anything he’s done to tie us to Wyoming’s energy past. By simple willingness to consider a new way of doing things, Gordon is turning our collective vision away our tried-and-true-but-dying hydrocarbon past.

It’s like emerging from a dark old coal mine into sunlight. I think that, when our eyes adjust to the light, we’ll all be glad he did.

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