Clean Energy Rally Sends Utah Governor a Message
When Utah Governor Gary Herbert convened his annual two-day Energy Summit inside Salt Lake City's Salt Palace this month, some 200 demonstrators gathered outside on the plaza in front of the building and staged a Clean Energy Rally to protest the governor's energy policies.
"The Energy Summit is basically the governor's annual love fest with the fossil fuels industry," said Salt Lake City-based Sierra Club organizer Tim Wagner, below at the rally with his wife and fellow Sierra Club activist Shawna Hershfield.
Lest this sound like hyperbole, consider this editorial from the Salt Lake Tribune, entitled Energy summit: Policies make Utahns the losers:
"Gov. Gary Herbert's energy summit this week was not about promoting job growth or economic development. Not really. The meeting mostly served to bring Herbert and his single-minded energy advisers and like-minded legislators together with fossil-fuel developers. ... The discussion was not about how to improve life for Utahns, but about boosting the bottom lines of industries that inevitably will leave Utah economically vulnerable, dirtier and less healthy. ... In short, the summit resembled a meeting of an exclusive club that might as well have had a 'No renewables allowed' sign tacked on the Salt Palace door."
"We went after the governor from numerous angles at the rally," Wagner says, "including what his energy policies mean for Utah's spectacular public lands, our health, and the state's lackluster performance when it comes to capitalizing on the clean-energy economy. Utah is dead last among the western states."
Carrying signs reading "Don't frack with Utah!" and "Your Children Are Breathing Your Mistakes," demonstrators chanted, "Dirty Gary, make our day/Get real on climate right away/Dirty Gary, make our day/Wind and solar are here to stay."
The Clean Energy Rally was organized by the Sierra Club, HEAL Utah, and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, with active participation from a wide range of groups including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Utah Moms for Clean Air, Utah Tar Sands Resistance, Peaceful Uprising, the Utah Clean Air Alliance, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
"At this moment, inside this remarkable convention center topped with solar power, our governor is meeting with dirty energy companies to plot out the next strategy for gaining access to [our public lands]," Wagner, below at right, told the rally. "They're plotting in order to drill, to mine, to build pipelines, roads, and everything that's necessary to turn Utah's public lands into a free-for-all industrial zone, all for one thing—money. The governor's own plan to turn nearly 30 million acres of federal lands owned by us over to the state because, quote, 'we can manage these lands better than the federal government,' is nothing more than a land grab."
Other speakers ranged from professional skiers to physicians, clean-energy contractors to clergy, hunters to tribal leaders. Among them was William Anderson, at left above, chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiutes in Nevada, who have been fighting the Reid Gardner coal plant north of Las Vegas. "Governor Herbert's energy summit is all about profits over people," said Anderson, who singled out the Sierra Club as the catalyst for helping his tribe organize their efforts to retire the plant. In December, the City of Los Angeles inked a deal to purchase 250 megawatts of power from a solar project planned to be built on the Moapa reservation—enough to power more than 113,000 L.A. homes.
Skier Caroline Gleich and snowboarder Forrest Shearer, below, outlined what snow means to Utah's economy and what Herbert's energy policy is doing to reduce the amount of snow that Utah gets, and how that limits winter tourism.
"It's not just the ski community at stake here—it's everyone who's thirsty and counts on the snowpack to melt gradually into the spring into the summer to provide a steady supply of water," said Gleich. "If we continue on our current trajectory, droughts will become more frequent as snowfall becomes more unpredictable."
"We've spent enough time living in the past—coal and fossil fuel had their time and its place," said Shearer. "We love Utah, and we want to see Utah move forward. It's time to invest in clean energy now."
Dr. Claron Alldredge, below at left, of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, outlined in detail the myriad health problems linked to air pollution, including lower IQ and dementia. "We don't have enough air flow to waste it on air polluting energy sources," he said. "We lose two years of our life to air pollution."
Jay Banta, above at right, of Utah Back Country Hunters and Anglers, said the state's rich heritage of fishing and hunting is threatened without clean air, clean water, and pristine habitats.
"It is a choice of doing what is right and what is not right," said Rev. Erin Gilmore, below at left, pastor of the Holladay United Church of Christ. At right, Dr. Brian Moench, founder and president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.
Responding to the Clean Energy Rally, Governor Herbert's energy adviser Cody Stewart said the governor favors an "all-of-the-above" approach to energy, including renewables, but the nation is still dependent on fossil fuels, which exist in vast quantities in Utah. "They've got to be realistic," Stewart told the Salt Lake Tribune. "Some of the things they are protesting aren't in our control. We can't control that Utah has great coal and oil deposits and wind is not so good here."
According to estimates based on data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Utah State Energy Program, and Utah State University's Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, Utah has the potential to generate 2,500 megawatts of wind—excluding any development on sensitive lands, national parks, and other areas unsuited for turbines—which would provide enough energy for more than 660,000 average Utah homes, yield a net economic benefit of about $2.7 billion, and create over 1,110 long-term jobs.
All photos by Jeff Clay.