Rod Miller: NIMBY Version 4.0 – or – The 21st Century Invades Wyoming Along I-80

Columnist Rod Miller writes, "The major projects in Kemmerer and Cheyenne will bring trainloads of money into Wyoming. But too many Wyomingites are too afraid of change and they’ll resist them because 'that’s not how grandpa did things.'"

Rod Miller

May 10, 20244 min read

Rod miller headshot scaled
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

On the western edge of the Big Empty, along the old immigrant trails that morphed into Interstate 80, Bill Gates is breaking ground on a next generation nuclear reactor. Some folks are running around with their hair on fire...not because they’re scared of nukes, but because they’re scared of Bill Gates.

Three hundred and fifty miles or so to the east, where the I-80 is fixin’ to leave the Cowboy State, Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta conglomerate is breaking ground for a multi-billion dollar data center near Cheyenne. And folks are whining like gut-shot geese...not because they don’t like money, but because they’re scared of Zuckerberg.

Both of these projects will bring trainloads of money into Wyoming. But too many Wyomingites are too afraid of change to realize that this is a new century in a new millennium, and they’ll resist these projects simply because “that’s not how grandpa did things.” 

Keep your ears to the ol’ sagebrush telegraph and in the gentle Wyoming breeze, cowboys and cowgirls, and you’ll hear the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth of those who feel threatened by economic change.

They’ll be the same folks who bemoan how hard it is for our young ‘uns to find work here at home, and how the decline of our legacy industries is placing an increasing tax burden on them. 

They stomp the floor and pound the table and proclaim that Wyoming needs to diversify its economic profile and develop new sources of revenue. 

Then, when that happens, they clutch their pearls and gasp, “We didn’t mean it THAT way.”

This is the same hidebound ossified mindset that resisted innovations like barbed wire and crossbred cattle when they were first introduced.

These are the same folks who whined about wildcatters punching holes in the Wyoming soil to find oil, and dug in their heels against strip mines in the Powder River Basin.

This crowd was sure that, in the mid-1950s when tourism supplanted agriculture as Wyoming’s biggest revenue producer, the curtain would come down on our western way of life. 

These quantum leaps in the economic life of Wyoming scared the living bejeezus out of a lot of folks who had grown accustomed to the comfort of the past and who trembled at the notion of change.

It will be these same voices who rant and rail against nuclear energy in Kemmerer and high-tech gizmos on the plains of Cheyenne. 

And their arguments against economic growth in our state will be based not on sound capitalist principles, but upon the fear of something new brought to us by outsiders we don’t trust. 

These backward-looking fossils might instead prefer that a new herd of longhorn cattle be driven here to fatten on good Wyoming grass, or that someone at U.W. figure out a way to make beer out of coal to sell to tourists. 

Or, in their heart of hearts, they might pray that the political power structure in Wyoming will simply say “NO” to any economic change, to stand up to anything new and proclaim, “Not In My Back Yard.” 

To resist economic change in Wyoming is to be willing to sacrifice our towns and, more importantly, our children on the altar of a way of life that has outlived its usefulness. 

I love Wyoming’s heritage and history as much as anyone, but all that nostalgia ain’t gonna pay our bills in the 21st Century. We sure can’t abandon that heritage and history, but we also can’t rely on it to keep food on the table much longer.

Granddad and Great Granddad sure as hell didn’t do it this way. But our ancestors also passed along to us the wisdom to do what needs to be done to feed our families. 

Here’s where we listen to ‘em. Here’s where we accept change in order to secure Wyoming’s place in a very different future.

Rod Miller can be reached at:

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Rod Miller

Political Columnist