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Clinton urges action to change communities, environment

BillClinton Gives Keynote at National Clean Energy Summit

Steve Marcus

Former President Bill Clinton gives a keynote address during the National Clean Energy Summit 5.0 at the Bellagio Tuesday, August 7, 2012.

Bill Clinton Gives Keynote at National Clean Energy Summit

Former President Bill Clinton gives a keynote address during the National Clean Energy Summit 5.0 at the Bellagio Tuesday, August 7, 2012. Launch slideshow »

2012 National Clean Energy Summit

Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy, speaks as U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, left, and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid look on during a news conference at the National Clean Energy Summit 5.0 at the Bellagio Tuesday, August 7, 2012. Officials announced that American wind power has reached a 50-gigawatt milestone, in part due to the Spring Valley wind farm near Ely, Nevada. Launch slideshow »

Former President Bill Clinton, whose time in office was marked by steady attacks from opposing lawmakers, was in Las Vegas to deliver a message of cooperation and patience, and to champion the benefits of green energy — though he also made sure to decry the highly partisan and dysfunctional politics in Washington.

Clinton, who closed out the fifth annual National Clean Energy Summit at the Bellagio on Tuesday, pressed audience members to tackle any initiative, no matter how small it seems, and to garner support from people who have opposing political views.

He also talked about other countries’ efforts to develop renewable energy. For instance, he said Costa Rica gets 92 percent of its power from hydroelectric energy. The country’s president, Laura Chinchilla, a member of the center-right party, told him that Costa Rica apparently has oil underground and probably offshore, but she has no intention of drilling.

“She said they want to be a sustainable country,” he said.

The 65-year-old Clinton also said changing the climate is a slow, decades-long process, and “(we) have to be prepared to pay the price of time.” Moreover, he said the European countries that emerged strongest from the financial crash also have the strongest commitments to sustainable energy, including Germany and Denmark.

Still, he said, the United States has been “derailed” by the increasingly popular notion that government is a problem and a roadblock, and the spreading mindset that corporations must only work for their shareholders, not also for their customers and communities.

He also said climate-change advocates must overcome, among others, members of Congress who deny that it’s even happening and that Washington these days is “not only fact-free but premised on the idea that you’re right all the time.”

When discussing the Costa Rican president, Clinton said Chinchilla would be considered a moderate Republican in the United States — “if that’s not an oxymoron now.”

Nevertheless,Clinton urged the audience to lead by example in trying to make a change in their communities.

“We need a bias for action, a bias for cooperation and a bias for thinking big even if we have to act small,” he said.

All told, Clinton was onstage Tuesday night for one hour and 15 minutes. He was introduced by Sen. Harry Reid, who helped organize the summit. After giving a speech, Clinton answered questions onstage from John Podesta, his former White House chief of staff who is now chairman and counselor of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington.

Earlier Tuesday at the conference, Reid took aim at the state’s primary electricity provider, NV Energy.

During his opening remarks at the Bellagio, the Nevada Democrat criticized coal plants and said it’s “time to close the dirty relic we’ve built.” He acknowledged that closing one plant would not solve all energy problems, but for NV Energy, “the first step should be turn out the lights on Reid Gardner, and turn them out forever.”

The Senate majority leader was referring to NV Energy’s Reid Gardner Generating Station near Moapa, northeast of Las Vegas. The coal-fueled, steam-electric generating plant was built in the 1960s, though NV Energy says it has undergone “extensive technology improvements and is among the cleanest coal-burning facilities in the nation.”

As Reid sees it: “There is no clean coal. There’s 'cleaner' coal, but there is no clean coal," he said Tuesday.

Reid, who has no affiliation with the Reid Gardner plant, spoke with reporters about his speech and was joined by environmental activists and members of the Moapa Paiutes. Many people who live near the plant have respiratory problems, tribal chairman William Anderson said, adding that some people live as close as 300 yards from the plant, though he lives about 1.5 miles away.

"I try to stay as far away as I can," he said.

Jennifer Schuricht, a spokeswoman for Las Vegas-based NV Energy, said the company operates Reid Gardner "in the best interests of our customers, in compliance with all federal and state laws, and in an environmentally responsible manner."

She also said the company recently added technology "to capture 99.9 percent of particulate emissions." Moreover, NV Energy's high-efficiency scrubbing systems help the plant "consistently rank" among the top 10 percent of plants nationwide for low sulfur emissions, she said.

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