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Monday, October 18, 2010

A special honor

I was surprised to find out not too long ago that a story I was reporting a year ago this month earned a special citation from Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism folks. I'm flattered to share the podium, so to speak, with this year's winner Lewis Kamb and the other special citation honoree Dawn Stover.

The story, for High Country News, was called Wind Resistance. It was about the huge boom in wind energy in Wyoming. More than that, though, it was about the oil and gas dominated culture of Wyoming politics, and how the wind boom was both affecting that culture, and being impacted by it. It was also about a guy named Diemer True, a wealthy Wyoming oilman who carries a lot of political weight in the state. True's an interesting character. His politics are libertarian, even Tea Party-esque; he's Dick Cheney's buddy; he has spent a good deal of his career lobbying to knock down environmental regulations in order to make it easier for the energy industry to access public lands.

Now, he's taken up a new cause: Fighting against wind farms in the Laramie Range, where he owns ranches. It's classic NIMBYism, sure, but it's also something more. After spending a bit of time with True, I became convinced that he generally cares about the Laramie Range; that, in some weird way, he's an environmentalist. I also learned that True was a really nice, gentle guy, in contrast to the angry, spittle-generating politics that he supports. Indeed, his tall, lanky physique, sun-burnished skin, close-cropped haircut, slow cowboy's drawl all kind of reminded me of my grandfather. Not only that, but the guy's a cowboy poet.

Throw in a sage grouse, conflicted environmental activists, and turbines as far as the eye can see, and you've got what I thought was a pretty interesting story. Apparently, the Knight-Risser folks agreed. Looking back, I'm just amazed that I was able to research, report and write the thing while I was also serving as editor-in-chief of the magazine. I must have been drinking more coffee back then.

The prize is based at Stanford and is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and co-sponsored by the Bill Lane Center for the American West (a very cool organization!).

Matt Jenkins -- whose writing I've always admired and with whom I've had the privilege of working many times -- won the award for High Country News back in 2006.

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