Las Vegas Sun

December 6, 2021

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Scientist wants Gibbons to nix support of coal

Climate researcher receiving prestigious award from institute

Audio Clip

  • James Hansen talks about the benefits of recognizing the need to decrease the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

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  • Hansen warns against the consequences of continued CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.

Audio Clip

  • Hansen discusses why eliminating coal plants is necessary in order to bring down CO2 emissions.

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  • Hansen talks about the potential of a positive response from Gov. Jim Gibbons.

The baby greens and beef bordelaise will be served with a side of controversy at the annual Nevada Medal awards ceremony Thursday night.

The Desert Research Institute will give the medal — a national award for scientific achievement — to renowned climate scientist James Hansen, who will present new research on global climate change before the dinner.

Hansen, no stranger to controversy, sent a letter to Gov. Jim Gibbons this week denouncing the governor’s position in support of three coal-fired power plants proposed in Nevada and calling on Gibbons to take meaningful action against climate change.

Despite being honorary co-chairman of the medal event with his wife, Dawn Gibbons, the governor is not expected to attend Thursday’s ceremony at Caesars Palace. He did not attend a similar dinner honoring Hansen in Carson City on Tuesday.

Spokesman Ben Kieckhefer said Gibbons had a long-standing commitment to attend the Republican Governors Association conference in Texas this week.

Greg Bortolin, director of communications for the research institute, said Gibbons’ wife will attend the Reno and Las Vegas events in his place.

On Tuesday, Hansen said he hopes his appeal to the governor as a father and grandfather will get through.

“It’s hard to get people to change their entrenched positions, but he could go down in history as one of the greatest leaders of Nevada” — if, as Hansen has suggested, he halted plans for the three coal plants until developers agree to equip them with technology to capture and store greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

Hansen said in his letter and during an interview Tuesday that Nevada should eschew using coal in favor of developing its abundant solar, geothermal and wind resources.

He also said the battle to stop construction of every coal plant is an increasingly important one in light of his latest research showing that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have surpassed the levels at which they will have devastating effects, especially in the desert Southwest.

That level is “a lot lower than almost anybody would have guessed,” Hansen said, noting that the current level of carbon dioxide in the air could cause acidification of oceans, destruction of coral reefs, melting of arctic sea ice and the drying up of rivers in the Southwest and around the world.

“As governor, you can help inspire your state and the rest of the country to take the bold actions that are essential if we are to retain a hospitable climate and a prosperous future,” Hansen said in the letter. “If you should decide to come down firmly on the side of clean energy and energy efficiency, it could be a transformative moment for you, Nevada and the future of coming generations.”

Hansen said he hopes Gibbons’ scientific training as a geologist long ago will help him keep an open mind and see beyond party lines and industry special interest groups.

Kieckhefer, however, said Gibbons’ track record of supporting renewable energy has been clear before and since he took office. Kieckhefer pointed to the climate change and renewable energy transmission committees the governor has formed since taking office as proof.

“Under the current transmission capacity ... we are unable to tap our renewable potential,” Kieckhefer said. Gibbons “has a broad set of responsibilities for this state, including ensuring there is stability in the power grid (and) that costs are reasonable for consumers.”

But some Nevada environmentalists say Gibbons’ record isn’t so clear.

Michele Burkett, president of Defend Our Desert, said her group has tried to contact Gibbons repeatedly about its opposition to a coal-fired power plant proposed near Mesquite, but has never received an audience with him.

She hopes Hansen’s letter has more success, but said Gibbons “may just ignore it like he has other attempts to reach him.”

That seems likely to be the case. Kieckhefer said Gibbons does not plan to respond to the letter.

Frank Maisano, a spokesman for the power plant proposed near Mesquite, said Hansen’s letter to Gibbons is similar to ones Hansen has written to government officials near every proposed coal plant in America.

“It reflects a lack of understanding ... of why a coal plant makes sense in Nevada,” Maisano said. “How do you propose to power Las Vegas ... without new power plants?”

Bortolin, of the Desert Research Institute, said the controversy surrounding Hansen’s letter shouldn’t distract from the reasons he was awarded the prestigious prize, which comes with an 8-ounce silver medal and $20,000.

Bortolin said a committee selected Hansen from among national nominees because of his “strides ... in making the public understand the issues of climate change.”

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