In Wyoming, the coal, oil, and gas industries provide jobs for more than 20,000 people. And these industries generate taxes, mining royalties, and fees that make up about half of the state’s revenue.

But as the country transitions to cleaner energy, the fossil fuel industry will continue declining.

“It’s difficult to create economic development in the state that could kind of make up for these losses,” says Robert Godby, an economist at the University of Wyoming.

He says the growing wind industry can help. But it will not, on its own, fill the gap.

“It’s very difficult to see renewable energy replacing either the employment or revenue in this state that’s been lost with the decline of fossil fuel production,” Godby says.

So he says the state will need to develop a more diverse economy that’s less reliant on any single industry.

In the short-term, that requires education and training for workers and aid for hard-hit communities. And in the long-term, it means developing new industries in the rural West.

“To adjust to this new world where fossil fuels are in lower demand really requires a fundamental change in the state’s economy, and that doesn’t happen overnight,” Godby says.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media