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October 31, 2014

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For clean energy summit, a national focus through state initiatives

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., gestures as he speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, June 4, 2013, after a Democratic strategy session.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., gestures as he speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, June 4, 2013, after a Democratic strategy session.

Sen. Harry Reid and John Podesta, head of the Center for American Progress, said Thursday the upcoming sixth annual National Energy Summit in Las Vegas would yield innovative ideas to improve the sustainability and resilience of the national energy grid.

The summit, with its theme "Energizing Tomorrow," will draw participants Reid described as “uniquely positioned to discuss where we are and where we want to go.”

The summit, planned for Aug. 13 at Mandalay Bay, will bring together industry representatives, activists, two new Cabinet secretaries, former senators and Western utility managers, including the head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the head of California’s Public Utilities Commission.

Panel discussions will include a first-ever discussion about how clean energy and infrastructure investment can help communities become more resilient to extreme weather brought on by climate change.

New Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and new Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz will be keynote speakers, and Moniz will participate on a panel about state-based clean energy solutions.

Reid has made a point of highlighting Nevada among the states for setting an example, and lauded the Legislature’s recent approval of a plan to to curtail more than 800 megawatts of coal-fired energy production.

“Nevada’s shown the country what’s possible when a coalition of legislators agrees to work on a bipartisan basis with the industry,” Reid said. “You can get things done."

Former Sens. Byron Dorgan, Trent Lott and Timothy Wirth will lead a panel about overcoming partisan roadblocks to an energy bill at the federal level.

But Reid admitted that a comprehensive federal approach to energy remains elusive.

“I’d love to do an energy bill, I don’t care what we vote on, but with their attitude we don’t get much done,” Reid said.

“Their” refers to members of the Republican Party, whom Reid regularly complains stymie progress he would otherwise make on issues — and whom, on Thursday, Reid suggested are not “serious about anything other than just being anarchists.”

But in the spirit of extending an olive branch, Reid then said he would be willing to hold a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline — the approval of which is one of the GOP’s main energy priorities — any time.

“It doesn’t bother me at all,” Reid said. “That’s why we were elected to take the votes, easy one and the hard ones. It’s simply a time problem,” Reid added, saying Republicans could try to raise Keystone as an amendment to the immigration bill — though he’d prefer a more germane forum.

The organizers are decidedly pro-President Barack Obama’s policies, though the summit roster spans the political divide.

“Deployment of renewable energy put in place by the Obama administration … has meant that the U.S. is nearly halfway to our 2020 climate protection goal,” Podesta said.

Podesta refrained from pointedly criticizing Republicans, instead pointing out that the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources committee had passed several smaller energy bills on a bipartisan basis.

But when it came to big and powerful steps, Podesta said, the absence of common purpose in D.C. politics makes it likely that states would have to take the lead on energy policies.

“Hope springs eternal, but we can’t wait for those things to happen and the state initiatives are really critical in that regard,” Podesta said. “And of course, there’s a regional dimension to this … linking those regional markets is important.”

The website for the event at Mandalay Bay is cleanenergysummit.org.

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