Western Business Roundtable – 2010 Summit of the West
I had the pleasure of spending the past few days in the company of a motivated, dynamic, and very interesting group of business and thought leaders, all of whom share an interest in promoting the ability of the western states to achieve and move forward.
Jim Simms, Holly Propst, Michelle Hindmarch, and the staff of the Western Business Roundtable (WBRT) did a stellar job of bringing together such a diverse group. And with the generally negative tenor of news and comment in today’s media, it was a genuinely refreshing change of pace to see representatives from industry, government, academia, NGOs, and the public all coming together to achieve the common goal of promoting the economic, environmental, and social well-being of the western states.
Two of the Summit keynotes were given by Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (D) and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R). Governor Schweitzer’s presentation on the need to move forward with a diverse suite of energy, mineral, and industrial development, while still demanding the utmost care for environment, communities, and — most of all — people, was almost like a revival meeting. It would have been hard not to catch the Governor’s enthusiasm for both his state and the potential of the west to lead the rebuilding effort after the prolonged economic slump we faced in 2009.
Additionally, there were live and teleconferenced appearances by Congressional Representatives and Senators from Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and Washington. There were also elected state representatives, representatives of the mining, fossil fuels, transportation, and utility industries, as well as agriculture, civil rights organizations, renewable energy, government, and several key NGOs in attendance.
The number of speakers and topics was impressive and, as a result, attendees came away from the Summit with a wealth of new ideas on endangered species and wildlife management, climate change, new clean coal technologies, ideas on how to speed up permitting processes, maintaining permit compliance, updates on Congressional work in energy and climate policy, as well as attending two national telephone town hall meetings (with 10,000+ online attendees)!
Of particular importance was the seminar on “Removing Obstacles to Getting Concrete and Steel in the Ground.”As the title implied, there was serious discussion on how to move past the permitting impasses and obstacles that have plagued the development of all forms of generation, transmission, and transportation projects. Perhaps most revealing was the information given by Bill Kovacs of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on their Project – No-project Campaign. In his presentation Kovacs revealed that while 129 coal-fueled generation projects had been stalled or shelved over the past few years. Approximately 170 renewable (that means wind, solar, biomass, etc.) projects had also been killed by what Kovacs referred to as “green tape” and public complaints.
We’ve all heard the numerous stories of the growing number of coal plants that have been stopped, but next to nothing about renewable projects being cancelled. I bring this up, not to gloat that renewables appear to be just as badly off as coal and nuclear when it comes to green tape, but to demonstrate that all development and energy generation projects are in the sights of one group or another. All energy generation, no matter what colored epithet has been applied to it, is in danger of cancellation. That fact should cause utilities and rate payers to sit up and take notice. Because, if even so-called green energy can’t get permitted, while our demand for energy continues to grow at a near exponential rate, we all will be facing shortages, or “sky rocketing” energy prices in the very near future. As Kovacs and the others on his panel noted, it’s time that we all made it clear to elected officials that we need power projects approved before it’s too late. Questions from the audience on the updating of NSR rules bolstered this reality. If regulations make it next to impossible to make older plants cleaner and more efficient, the need for new plants becomes that much more immediate.
Of equal use was the discussions over endangered species and environmental permits and compliance. The specific information was well researched and useful. However, of even greater import was the fact that several prominent NGOs were present and actively describing their history of cooperation with industry and government. Rather than simply throwing up road blocks and knee-jerk litigation as is the habit of some of the more extreme green movement, these groups were laboring to find workable development and conservation solutions. Among these groups were the Nature Conservancy, the National Wild Turkey Foundation, Boone and Crockett Club, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, and the Mule Deer Foundation. Each one demonstrated a commitment to move away from the petty and destructive tactics of other green groups and a commitment to work for the betterment of the environment and wildlife, as well as humans, and human society, AND the industries that support those people.
In his closing remarks, Jim Sims, WBRT President and CEO noted that the next Summit will be held in January 2011, at the same location. Having now attended two of these Summits, I would not hesitate to recommend the WBRTs 2011 Business Summit of the West to anyone who has an interest in business and commerce in the western states.
(Update 1-12-10) – WBRT has a writeup on the Summit on their website as well.