Wyoming is the least-populous state in the nation and people are leaving again.\r\n\r\nIt was little more than three years ago when then-Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead evinced the look of a high-stakes, high-rolling, high-risk gambler and held a press conference in Cheyenne.\r\n\r\nDespite what numerous national energy commodity experts were saying about its dim outlook, Mead declared that, in terms of Wyoming\u2019s future, the state was \u201cdoubling down\u201d on its defiant bet that coal mining would deliver the Equality State to economic prosperity.\r\n\r\nThe gambit came only months after Mead, along with other elected officials in the state, claimed the US Environmental Protection Agency, under then-President Barack Obama, \u201cwas shutting down the coal industry.\u201d\r\n\r\nAnd this followed years when policymakers bent over backwards to accommodate large coal producers whose message essentially was: trust us, let us do what we want, help us open new coal tracts on federal public land, and we\u2019ll make you rich; we\u2019ll contribute to your campaigns for elected office; we\u2019ll rhetorically help you claim that the science documenting climate change is a lie; we\u2019ll keep your citizens employed; we\u2019ll pay taxes so you never have to think about pondering other revenue sources; and we\u2019ll honor our commitment to heal the environment if we ever leave, which will be a long time from now.\r\n\r\nThree short years later, the coal industry in Wyoming is in dire straits.\r\n\r\nOne by one, major companies are reeling. Some have declared bankruptcy, putting thousands of miners out of work, leaving them to worry if companies will actually honor their long-promised pension obligations. Those overseeing state and local governments are also in full panic mode.\r\n\r\nThose who stridently defended the coal industry\u2014 who chose to ignore the reality that proliferating extraction of cheaper natural gas was destroying the market for coal\u2014now have to contend with historians who will judge them harshly.\r\n\r\nTravel back in time half a decade and it would have been impossible to ignore the cautionary advisements of professor Rod Godby, affiliated with the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming. He correctly said a harsh reckoning was coming for the state.\r\n\r\nGodby, whom I interviewed, wasn\u2019t alone in his predications but he certainly was among the bravest. His candor required incredible courage to publicly question the coal industry\u2019s swagger in state politics.\r\n\r\nAlong with it, Wyoming\u2019s three-member Congressional Delegation has helped President Donald Trump repeal nearly every regulatory obstacle the coal industry didn\u2019t like. Even with that, the prognosis for the industry isn\u2019t good.\r\n\r\nLest we forget, state lawmakers earlier threatened to withhold funding for the state\u2019s most prominent institution of higher learning, the University of Wyoming, if any of its faculty openly questioned the power of coal interests. Even an outdoor fine art installation alluding to climate change on campus was ordered removed because it offended elected officials loyal to industry.\r\n\r\nIn Cody, some local school board members, in deference to coal, suggested that the science of climate change be downplayed or stricken from public school textbooks.\r\n\r\nBefore me right now is a policy statement U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney released in 2016 when she was running for a House seat.\r\n\r\nBesides her straight-faced insistence that the opinions of experts on climate change at the National Academy of Sciences and other respected institutions are based on \u201cjunk science,\u201d Cheney continued to assert the now-debunked position that a War On Coal was being waged by the Obama Administration and environmentalists.\r\n\r\nTo accommodate the desires of coal lobbyists, Cheney vowed to rescind the Obama Administration\u2019s Clean Power Plan (which, according to experts, was only a minor factor in the decline of coal). Cheney devoted herself to \u201crepealing mercury and air toxic standards,\u201d \u201crepealing the regional haze rule,\u201d \u201clifting the moratorium on coal leases on federal lands,\u201d \u201cenacting legislation that prohibits the regulation of carbon dioxide,\u201d \u201cabolishing the EPA,\u201d and, among other things, \u201cbuilding a nationwide coalition to fight for our coal industry.\u201d\r\n\r\nCheney vowed to give the coal industry everything it wanted. Today what is it giving Wyoming in return?\r\n\r\nWe know, with the clarity of hindsight, that the truth eventually wins out over those who insist it doesn\u2019t apply to them. If any \u201cwar\u201d is being waged against coal, it is by the market forces of natural gas. Wyoming today is worse off not because it held the coal industry to account, but because it didn\u2019t and has no back-up plan.\r\n\r\nDuring the boom years, Wyoming politicians refused to accept the reality that the demise of coal was rapidly approaching.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe can win this fight, but to do so, we must bring national attention and focus to this issue,\u201d Cheney said in 2016.\r\n\r\nIs it not ironic that, in a state where the federal government is frequently cast as an enemy, some miners and devastated communities may someday need federal disaster aid? To see how Mr. Trumps\u2019s pledge to resurrect the fortunes of \u201cbeautiful, beautiful, clean, clean coal\u201d is faring, he ought to visit Gillette.