Living the smoggy life is something folks in California and Houston are associated with. Now the same is true for those in Pinedale, Wyoming.

The small town in western Wyoming is often the subject of news this time of year as the state routinely declares ozone alerts because of the smog that hovers between the mountains and over the town.

Generally, the coverage of the small town’s large pollution problem surrounds the cause of the smog. Some take a literal approach, saying the cause is the mountains that surround Pinedale and cause the inversion that traps pollution there. Keith Guille of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality told The New York Times, “It’s like a pot, with all the mountain ranges around it, and the inversion is like a lid.” Others say that the infusion of people and dust-kicking trucks from the growing energy industry is partially to blame. And, oh yeah, there’s the growing energy industry in Pinedale where fracking, the controversial practice of injecting a mixture of toxic chemicals into the ground to get at natural gas, has greatly expanded over the last decade. These are all potential suspects, and everyone has their favorite one, but if people are okay with it, should outsiders really care?

Just like people don’t have to live in smoggy places like Los Angeles, Houston or Denver, no one has to live in Pinedale. But they do. And that’s what’s important. The most recent profile of Pinedale in the New York Times focused not on fracking, not on the growing population and not the mountains, but on those who love the Pinedale life. It’s not a bad life. I’ve been to Pinedale. It’s beautiful. Those who live there know that. No one forces anyone there to be there. It’s a choice.

Resident Dawn Mitchell told the Times, “If poor air quality is what I have to live with, then that’s a choice I make.” Now, the cynics will say that smoking is a choice, and drinking is a choice. But ozone warnings a few days a year aren’t as drastic; at least as far as I know. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t live in Pinedale. But people there probably wouldn’t live where I live. It’s not personal. It’s a choice.

Despite everything that is wrong with Washington, D.C. (and there’s plenty), I choose to live there. And despite the ozone warnings in Pinedale people live there. Both places have benefits and both have their negatives. I’m not going to judge Pinedale and I hope the folks from Pinedale don’t judge those who make the choice to live elsewhere.

So yes, the yearly coverage of Pinedale’s smog problem is interesting and probably worth some looking into when it comes the cause of the smog. But let’s be careful not to characterize the people as the problem or having problems for choosing to be there. People are people. Choices are choices and there’s good and bad in all of it. That’s what makes life so interesting, no matter where you choose to live it.

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