Saturday, July 18, 2009
930 - Nothing like it in the world (and it crosses Wyoming!)
Perhaps modern Wyomingites are not aware of just how important the railroad is to our state’s history.
Union Pacific towns like Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Rock Springs, Green River and Evanston might not have even existed had there not been the transcontinental railroad in the late 1860s.
Old railroad towns like Worland, Greybull and Lusk are testimony to other rail development of our state.
And here in modern times, the gigantic fortunes created by our coal industry are because of trains in and out of the Powder Basin near Gillette.
Just recently I learned a lot about our how intertwined our history is with railroading.
As a person who annually logs thousands of miles of highway travel, I have become a huge fan of audio books.
One of my favorite authors is Stephen Ambrose and his book, Nothing Like It In The World was my most recent listening adventure while driving back to Iowa for a family event earlier this month.
The experience of hearing about how they built this magnificent transcontinental railroad while driving over the same swath of land was educational. The Union Pacific tracks parallel Interstate 80 and the towns in Wyoming and Nebraska that we drove through were all mentioned in their historical contexts in the audio book.
You find out that the Ames Monument on top of the summit between Laramie and Cheyenne was built for the Ames brothers, one of whom was a president of the UP.
It is pointed out that the famous “gangplank,” an unusual gradual grade from Cheyenne up to the summit is one of the main reasons for the route through Wyoming.
And you also learn that one of the most fantastic technological achievements in Wyoming history occurred near there, with a trestle bridge 450 feet long and 150 feet high over Dale Creek. Sure would have been a sight.
The hero of the book is Gen. Grenville Dodge of Council Bluffs, Iowa, who was chief engineer for the UP.
In the book, the author credits Gen. Dodge with picking the sites for Cheyenne and Laramie and for naming the two cities. He also coined the term “hell on wheels” to describe what these frontier towns were like when the railroad arrived.
The chaos was so terrible with gamblers and brothels and scam artists that Dodge gave the okay for his security chief to “clean up” one of these towns, located near present-day Sidney, NE. The security chief took his marksmen into the town for a showdown with the gamblers. When they refused to leave, the UP enforcers opened fire. Over 200 of the dead riffraff were buried in unmarked graves at the edge of that town.
When Dodge heard of this, he decided to not duplicate it in Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Green River or Bear River City (near present day Evanston) as the project marched west.
The story starts with a meeting by railroad lawyer Abe Lincoln and Mr. Dodge on the bluffs of Iowa overlooking the Missouri River toward what became Omaha.
Lincoln was a huge booster of the national railroad and he was told that Dodge, then 28 years old, was the smartest railroad man in the region. Dodge said the best route across the country would take off from there and follow the Platte River valley and on to Salt Lake City, before continuing on to California.
When the Civil War neared end, President Lincoln’s next priority was to get the railroad built. He recalled Dodge’s observations and had Congress form the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad for the purpose of establishing something “unlike anything in the world.”
Prior to the railroad, it took three months and a $1,000 to get from New York to San Francisco. Afterward, it took one week and $150. Truly, never had a civilization witnessed such a life-changing event, thus the title for Ambrose’s book.
The book also talked a lot about the Central Pacific Railroad and how it employed 15,000 Chinese at one point. That side of the story was interesting but the UP side, well, I was driving along that line, itself.
As my trip ended passing by through Council Bluffs, you could not help wondering about the great vision these men, especially President Lincoln, had about this great country.
In 1865, Lincoln restored the country from north and south by winning the Civil War.
And in 1869, even though he was dead, his vision saw the country completed east and west with the building of the transcontinental railroad.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
929 - Sen. John Barrasso`s star is rising on national GOP stage
As the national Republican Party reels from South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s gambits, Nevada Sen. John Ensign’s mistress mess and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s surprise resignation, it appears that the Grand Old Party may be looking for some fresh leadership.
And Wyoming’s junior Sen. John Barrasso may be just the man.
It has been hard to turn on a conservative TV show in recent months without seeing the visage of our newest senator. And ever the consummate media professional, he has fared very well.
Not sure it would be possible for a politician from a small state like Wyoming to lead a ticket, but as he keeps gaining momentum while others are tumbling, well, who knows?
As a long-time friend of the Casper bone surgeon (and as someone who was hoping the then-Casper state senator would be appointed to replace the late Craig Thomas two years ago) this has been good news to me.
But there has been somewhat of a down side, too.
Not sure why and we did not see it coming, but Sen. Barrasso has become one of the most partisan people in the Senate. It seems he rarely works with folks across the aisle and seems to not care about working in Democrats at all.
He has absorbed in full the total religion of the conservative side of the national Republican Party and there is little doubt where he will vote when it comes to partisan issues.
But then again, is this bad?
Being archconservative will not hurt him with his constituents back here at home, that is for sure. He won big in last fall’s election bid.
And if he really is headed for a bigger stage, the folks who control the national GOP will want a “true believer” to carry their colors.
And now the biggest national stage is set where Senator (and also Doctor) Barrasso will be getting even more air time. As one of the few physicians in Congress, he stands ready to offer up the GOP line whenever asked.
President Barack Obama has made a national health insurance plan one of the most important goals of his administration. Obviously, Sen. Barrasso opposes it. Vehemently.
Is there a doctor in the Senate? Why, yes, there are two and one of them is from Wyoming. And as he has clearly shown, he knows how to handle himself in front of the national media.
In the past two and a half months, he has been on FOX News 9 times, MSNBC 7 times, CNBC, CNN and ABC, once each. He also gave the Republican’s response to one of the president’s weekly radio addresses. And now he and the other doctor in the Senate are hosting a weekly reality show called Senate Doctors, which will air at 2 p. m. every Tuesday and Thursday.
The TV show, which airs on YouTube on the Internet, first aired last week and it sure looks like it is Dr. Barrasso’s show with the other doc as his key guest. Their position is the GOP version of how to solve national health care and insurance problems. They plan to answer readers’ questions sent to them by email to email@example.com.
The show is a perfect natural showcase for our doctor-senator. Sen. Barrasso is a workaholic who has a genius-like mental capability and outstanding media skills. Plus, he is clean as a whistle. Whew!
Critics of the junior senator will point out some shortcomings. They would like to show to how effective our Senior Sen. Mike Enzi has been when it comes on working on important legislation (like health care) by working in a bi-partisan manner with folks across the aisle. But Sen. Barrasso is taking a different path, which is dramatically raising his public recognition persona on the national stage.
Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote a column urging Gov. Dave Freudenthal to appoint then State Sen. Barrasso to the U.S. Senate seat.
In that column, I also wrote the following about him:
“And now we will see Sen. Barrasso’s style on a national stage. It’s easy to predict that he will quickly establish a high profile. You just cannot keep him down – his style will be different from both Sen. Mike Enzi and the late Sen. Craig Thomas. He will be out front more and will make his constituents very proud of him. It is a great time for Wyoming.”
Not sure even I could have believed that what was written could be so prescient.
Monday, July 06, 2009
928 - Four reasons to stay here (or to leave California!)
Recently Karen Gibbons of Laramie sent me a clipping that was pretty funny – it was called the “things you need to know about leaving California.” Most of the things included compliments for our wonderful state of Wyoming.
Before sharing those reasons, it got me thinking about my list of the “four things that keep me here in Wyoming.” There are hundreds but let’s boil it down to just four.
• One example is our “small is good” philosophy.
People here often do not realize it, but as the least populated state in the union (about the same as Fresno), Wyoming folks have developed principles and values that work well and are unique.
In flyover country, we have learned that you can live in a small town but have most of the amenities of the big cities.
Wyoming pioneered two big historic examples supporting that fact, cable TV and good roads.
Since we are so isolated, we needed a way to catch up on what was going on in the world. Cable TV was born here in the 1950s and was our window to the outside. Not long after cable arrived, there were satellite dishes scattered from one end to the state to the other – again, we make the best of being alone.
Because we have to travel long distances, we have always had a tradition of good roads, which continues today.
Credit our “small is good” philosophy for helping Wyoming be the way that it is.
• Second reason to stay is that although we tend to be a “one trick pony,” when it comes to industry (some 60 percent of our business is energy-related) but that is a very good industry with a bright future. Glad we are not in auto manufacturing.
• A third reason is a type of “conservative heritage” where you really do try to provide for yourself. Our isolation is the mother of this invention, which makes us stronger and resilient. People here often see problems as opportunities.
• A fourth reason is our focus on lifelong education. Wyoming has been a leader in Internet diversity in schools and we will be seeing some very progressive ideas coming down the pike on other education fronts, too.
Plus we have the Hathaway Scholarship program. It would be difficult for a bigger state to implement a similar program, although California had such a program for years (perhaps one reason they are now bankrupt?).
Let’s face it folks, Wyoming looks mighty good when you compare it to a lot of other states.
The clipping was of a column by a clever reporter named Jennifer Davies of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Her piece ended up being quite a backward compliment to Wyoming.
I meant to send it to my brother Jerry, who lives in that city, but have not yet. He will have to read it here.
She compiled a national scorecard of states and offered it to her fellow Californians who were planning to leave. Here is an edited summary of her suggestions of what states they might head to:
“Beset by deficits, unemployment above 11 percent, eroding infrastructure, the Golden State is looking tarnished. Ready to ditch the sunshine in favor of more stability? Here are some states to consider:
“Employment: Scratch Michigan, Oregon, South Carolina and Rhode Island off your list because those states have higher unemployment than we do. North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and South Dakota all have unemployment rates below 5 percent. New motto for the Dakotas: ‘Our unemployment is so low even the cattle have jobs.’ Catchy, huh?
“Deficits: Want to get away from all the bad news about our ever-bleak budget? Your options are limited as only three states – Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming (Them again? What gives?) – are not facing any budget gaps in the current fiscal year.
“Schools: Cali ranks 47th in terms of per-pupil spending, besting only Texas, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. Vermont, New Jersey and, yes, Wyoming, spent the most per pupil.
“Income: In 2007, the states with the highest personal income per capita were Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts. The lowest? Mississippi, West Virginia and Arkansas. California has the seventh highest personal income at $41,571. You know who beats us? That`s right – Wyoming. It`s No. 6 with a personal income of $43,226. Goody for them.”
Thus ends my edited version of Jennifer’s screed. I have tried to contact her, but she probably feels Wyoming is uninhabited and that I am just another Californian trying to harass her.
Friday, July 03, 2009
Flaming Gorge water transfer plan is dumb and ill-timed
The following article by Bill Sniffin was published in the Salt Lake Tribune and the Fort Collins Coloradoan on July 2, 2009:
By Bill Sniffin
Because I have a boat on Flaming Gorge Reservoir, it makes sense for me to oppose piping 250,000 acre-feet of water per year from Wyoming to the Front Range.
And although there are small numbers of folks banding together to fight this project, the reason it will be defeated is not because of a quality decline of my future aquatic adventures.
It will be because good science will show this is the wrong plan coming at the wrong time in the wrong place.
The Million Conservation Group of Fort Collins wants to spend $3 billion to pump water from the Green River (a tributary of the Colorado River) and my favorite reservoir (which straddles the Utah and Wyoming border) so that new houses and new industry can continue to be built on the east side of the Colorado Rockies.
Their project expects to pump 81.4 billion gallons per year, a staggering amount. The pipeline will be 560 miles long.
Here is why plans like these are destined for the dustbin of history:
• Despite the fact that a compact signed by four states would indicate Colorado owns unused shares of its water in the Green River, experts say this is not true. The most knowledgeable people on the subject say that the Colorado River is already over-committed and there is no water left to be put into a trans-basin diversion pipe.
• Wiser heads will prevail and realize that the secret for good economic health for the Front Range is conservation through the use of Best Practices when it comes to its water usage. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter recently said: “Conservation has to become an ethic of the West,” in an address to the Western Governors Conference at Park City, for example.
• Much of the West is still in a drought and the worst place in the country right now is the aptly named Sweetwater County in SW Wyoming, where all this water will come from. This area gets just 8 inches of precipitation per year.
• Colorado law is a little nasty when it comes to how it treats entrepreneurs who are playing fast and loose when peddling water rights. Could be a big hurdle for this outfit.
• Wyoming law says water in that state, even when it is allegedly signed away by a 60-year compact, still cannot be moved out of state without approval of the legislature. Good luck on that.
• The headwaters of the Green River are in the massive Wind River Mountain Range. The glaciers in that range have declined dramatically in the past ten years to where most are in danger of disappearing. What effect will this have on future flows?
• The Endangered Species Act will come into play, as it will be proven that pumping the water out of these locations will kill off important native species. It will also negatively affect plants and animals. There is also the opposite problem of this pipeline providing a way for invasive species to travel from one part of the country to another.
• One of Wyoming’s best attorneys, Ford Bussart of Rock Springs, predicts lawsuits on this project will extend for decades.
These are just a few of the more obvious reasons why such a project is going to fail.
And despite the best efforts of Denver editorial writers to promote the project, plus the support of big money by Front Range entrepreneurs, this cause is a lost one.
Its promoter, Mr. Aaron Million, should follow his own advice and “stick a fork in it” now before too much more time and money is wasted on this ill-fated venture.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
927 - It`s time for Wyoming to tax energy, especially wind
Listen up, Wyoming people – you are among the most heavily taxed people in the country. Yes, that’s right.
You may ask: “How can that be?”
We have no state income tax. We have the lowest property taxes in the country thanks to the energy companies. And our sales taxes are among the lowest in the USA, too.
Well, simply put, we just do not make anything here. Everything we use here is made somewhere else and then shipped into Wyoming for us to purchase.
Along the way, these items, everything from food to wood, is taxed like crazy back there. And those taxes are added to the products as they are sent downstream – to us and other places.
So with that thought in mind, it is time for the legislature to contemplate an energy generation tax. It would be tax collected here but passed along to end users in states all across the country.
Main reason for this is that it would finally develop a way that Wyoming could make some money on all the wind turbine construction that is occurring here in our state.
We are the country’s windiest place, according to Gov. Dave Freudenthal’s web site. And speculators are crawling over our state buying up leases on land where they plan to build vast fields of windmills.
To people who have read this column over the years, two things come to mind as things that have been promoted incessantly: one is that we need to encourage more power plants here and second, we love the development of our wind energy resource.
So, is this idea of promoting an energy generation tax going to stunt these two goals?
Our legislature is so enamored with the energy industry that it will be almost impossible to get a large enough tax that would affect construction at all. But if they just do a little, it will go a long ways toward helping to add to our dramatically slipping revenue streams from severance taxes.
With so many new wind farms, the idea of taxing electricity for out-of-state markets will be getting a fresh look.__
A legislative task force is considering how to manage wind farm impacts and the electricity that they generate. "Wyoming has the potential for a tremendous amount of development, and I think the task force wants to see that it`s done responsibly," said State Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock, who heads the group, was quoted as saying.
Topics examined by the task force will be tax and revenue matters. Anderson said a "what`s in it for Wyoming?" discussion will occur at the group’s meeting, Aug. 25-26 in Casper. Their recommendations will be presented to Legislature.
Gov. Freudenthal told a crowd of 100 people here in Lander last week some alarming news about the effects of the lowering of prices for natural gas and coal. He also expounded on the expected dip in consumption of Wyoming energy products across the country.
Over 60 percent of our state tax revenues come from these energy severance tax sources. If they go down a third, well, somebody has to make that up.
There are just two ways to deal with it. First, you cut the state budget, which the governor is proposing by 10 percent. And, second, you find new sources of revenue.
Wyoming also needs to increase coal, natural gas and oil severance taxes and perhaps adopt an Alaska model where such a tax is indexed to the profits being made by the energy companies, but that is another subject.
A tax on electricity generated here and sent out of state will affect those folks who have invested in coal-fired power plants in Wyoming. These folks have been good citizens, trying to limit pollution, employing lots of folks and paying big chunks of local property taxes.
But their power products are going downstream, just like the food and wood that we use here but buy from somewhere else, which was mentioned earlier.
Remember, we are the end users on just about everything we consume in this state.
People in other states will consume the power we generate here and the utility just adds our meager tax to the product. The end user will pay it.
The biggest thing we produce in this state is energy. We export most of it.
And now with thousands of wind turbines coming into view, we need to add an energy generation tax on that power, too, so that downstream users can help us pay for our basic needs in this state.