“Why People Really Want to Move to Idaho but Are Fleeing Its Neighbor, Wyoming” →

An­drew Van Dam re­port­ing for The Wash­ing­ton Post (em­phas­is ad­ded):

Idaho is the fast­est-grow­ing state in the uni­on.

Half of its neigh­bors are in the top five. All but one are in the top 13.

The “but one” is Wyom­ing. It’s dead last. 51st out of a pos­sible 51 (our rank­ing is ad­jus­ted for pop­u­la­tion and in­cludes Wash­ing­ton, D.C.). Wyom­ing lost 1.0 per­cent of its pop­u­la­tion in 2017 even as Idaho was gain­ing 2.2 per­cent.


So why are so many people leav­ing Wyom­ing while Idaho booms?

For clues, look at the full rank­ing [of states by pop­u­la­tion growth]. The Pa­cific North­w­est and Moun­tain West are ex­tremely well rep­res­en­ted at the top of the chart but Wyom­ing and West Vir­gin­ia are stuck to the bot­tom. Those two, and oth­ers in the lower ech­el­on, have something in com­mon: re­source de­pend­ence. In their case, it’s primar­ily coal min­ing.

Wyom­ing has long been the na­tion’s coal king. The vast op­er­a­tions of the Powder River Basin pro­duce more coal than all but a hand­ful of states put to­geth­er. But cheap nat­ur­al gas has re­duced power plants’ de­pend­ence on the min­er­al and, with it, its price and pro­duc­tion. Wyom­ing’s mines are ship­ping out few­er tons of coal and get­ting paid less for each of them.

It’s hard not to think of Trump’s ef­forts to bring back coal while read­ing this art­icle. Much has been said and writ­ten about why those ef­forts are ill-ad­vised. There’s been a lot of talk about coal’s neg­at­ive en­vir­on­ment­al im­pacts (all true), and about its de­clin­ing value as the world (even in­clud­ing the United States!) turns away from fossil fuels to re­new­al sources of en­ergy such as wind and sol­ar (also true). But there’s an­oth­er, more prim­al, eco­nom­ic factor at work: ex­trac­ted re­sources, like coal, are in­her­ently volat­ile. They boom and bust as new de­pos­its are dis­covered, ex­trac­ted, and ex­hausted, and as de­mand waxes and wanes.

In­creas­ing our de­pend­ence on coal makes our eco­nomy less stable. Even if Trump can ush­er in the coal boom times that he has prom­ised, the bust will in­ev­it­ably fol­low.