Guest Column: When Dealing With Feds, Wyoming Should Recall The Serenity Prayer

Guest columnist Samuel Western writes, "Maybe Wyoming should start listening to markets rather than tilting at windmills. Let’s stop throwing money at studies and policies that prop up struggling industries."

CSD Staff

June 16, 20243 min read

Sam western headshot 6 17 24
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

When it comes to dealing with the federal government, Wyoming could do worse than remember the serenity prayer. Originally penned by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and embraced by Alcoholics Anonymous, most of us know the phrase:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Wyoming struggles putting the last part of that phrase into practice.

With so much coal, natural gas, and oil coming from the federal mineral estate, we are bound at the hip with Washington when it comes to fossil fuel extraction. As much as we kick and scream, DC pulls the strings.

The federal government does a lot of dumb things when it comes to land and energy policy. So what else is new? It also does good things, but that's a different story. When Washington promulgates a policy we deem evil, Wyoming howls in protest. We throw money and political energy into overturning the regulations.
 Now members of the Freedom Caucus advocate for a special session in Cheyenne. They want the legislature to fight the Biden administration’s plan to stop issuing federal coal leases in the Powder River Basin.

 Coal has been good to Wyoming. It’s also been regulated to the minor leagues. The numbers are sadly familiar: The US produced 1,805 million short tons of coal in 2010. It will produce half that amount in 2024 with further declines on the way.

The federal government isn’t driving this change. Markets and technology are.

A former Saudi oil minister, Sheikh Zaki Yamani famously said “the stone age came to an end not for a lack of stone, and the oil age will end, but not for a lack of oil.”

The painful part is we never seem to learn.

Remember all the whining about Barack Obama’s war on coal? The former president was no fan of the bituminous but the restrictions his administration placed on production never got close to implementation.

Instead, as two engineering professors at Case Western Reserve demonstrated, cheap shale gas, not EPA, pushed the decline of coal-generated electricity.

Maybe Wyoming should start listening to markets rather than tilting at windmills. Let’s stop throwing money at studies and policies that prop up struggling industries.

When we do roll up our sleeves, let’s pick our battles carefully, like making sure the BLM doesn’t squash our trona industry.

What can we control? A continued effort to diversify our economy away from commodities.

This doesn’t mean banishing them. It means accepting changes in market shifts and technology.  This isn’t easy.

Oil, gas, and coal production are central to Wyoming cultural identity. Yet commodities should be the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. 

Samuel Western writes about economic history. His newest book, The Spirit of 1889: Restoring the Last Promise of the Great Plains and Northern Rockies, will be published in July.  Reach him at:

Share this article



CSD Staff