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for people who care about the West

How big is your backyard?

 

The first time someone called me a NIMBY to my face was more than a decade ago, at a public meeting. The town council was expected to vote in favor of planting a new cell tower at the top of Cedar Hill, my favorite semi-wild place on the edge of town.

The mayor at the time extolled the advantages of a cell tower. It would fill in those annoying dead zones where there was no reception, he said. It might even save lives: A person in serious trouble -- someone trapped underneath a flipped ATV, for example –– could always reach emergency services.

True enough. But a few of us, who enjoyed the relative quiet of Cedar Hill -- the mule deer that bedded down under the trees, the delicate wildflowers that appeared for a couple of weeks in spring -- questioned why the cell tower, surely an eyesore, needed to be located there. Weren't there other options?

This is progress for our town, a council member responded, and you people who oppose it are "just a bunch of NIMBYs."

NIMBY, of course, stands for Not in My Back Yard. It is a term commonly used to denigrate anyone opposed to new development with a potential public benefit (along with, of course, some private economic benefits).

Environmentalists are used to being called NIMBYs. Any effort to protect wild places, endangered species, clean air and the like tends to provoke name-calling from those whose development plans might be derailed in the process. Which is why it is so deliciously ironic to see a Wyoming oilman -- and one of the state's most powerful political operatives -- being accused of NIMBYism. Diemer True, one of the central characters in this issue's cover story by Editor Jonathan Thompson, has helped form a conservation group to keep ugly wind turbines from sprouting in the Laramie Range, where his family owns huge ranches.

For most of his career, True has been on the other side of the barricades, fighting for unfettered industry access to public lands. Now, like a born-again evangelist, he waxes eloquent about his love for the land, and, with his wealthy neighbors, is engaged in a major campaign to keep the wind industry out of their capacious backyard.

The Laramie Range is a beautiful place, a landscape well worth protecting. Still, one can only hope that True sees the irony. All development in the West takes place in somebody's backyard. But only the rich and powerful can easily squelch it.

Thompson's story points to the difficult decisions facing the West as renewable energy advances: How much territory should the region sacrifice to large-scale wind and solar development as our country lurches slowly toward curtailing its carbon consumption? Wyoming sits at the nexus of both the old and new energy economies. If the question is answered anywhere, it will be here.

I hiked up Cedar Hill the other day to look at the cell tower. It looms like a bulky stick man; the metal-encased power box beneath it hums loudly enough to be heard from a hundred yards away. But the view from the top is still fantastic, and on my way down I spotted a small herd of deer flitting through the gnarled trees. At the bottom, I reached into my pocket, pulled out my cell phone, and called home.

For more reading: Wind Resistance: Will the petrocracy keep Wyoming from realizing its windy potential?