Las Vegas Sun

September 19, 2017

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Joe Downtown: Challenges daunting but foundation solid for conservation league, departing official says


Joe Schoenmann

Scot Rutledge is leaving Las Vegas after leading the Nevada Conservation League since 2006.

As Scot Rutledge prepares to leave Las Vegas after seven years heading the Nevada Conservation League, he has to take some pride in how far his organization has come since he took the reins.

At the same time, he admits the environmental challenges facing his organization and the state are daunting. One of the biggest, he predicts, will be if and when the state starts to deal with climate changes brought on by global warming.

“It’s a worst-case situation or a best-case situation, but we get to choose,” said Rutledge, executive director of what some say is the state's most influential environmental lobbying group.

“Climate change is one of the single most important issues facing Nevada,” he said. Dwindling water resources supplying the state’s most populous area, Southern Nevada, are already a huge issue. But if it keeps getting hotter, it will impact wildlife, air quality and tourism.

“If we don’t take it seriously, our whole state’s economy will suffer.”

Rutledge, 35, will leave in September for Costa Rica. He is moving with his fiancee, who is going there to work on a graduate degree.

Rutledge moved here in 2004 from Dallas to work on political campaigns. In 2006, he got the job with the Nevada Conservation League.

High points over the past seven years: “Changing the energy discussion so we’re not talking about fossil fuels anymore. I didn’t think that was possible when I began because of the growth and the coal rush nationally. Two things changed that: persistence and U.S. Sen. (Harry) Reid.”

A low point: In the 2011 state legislative session, business interests in Northern Nevada passed what he calls the “screw Lake Tahoe bill,” which pulled Nevada out of a bistate compact with California to protect the lake. But even that is about to change: Rutledge expects the Legislature to reverse that move with a bill in the current session.

Rutledge’s lobbying hallmark has been to work with the powers that be and seek middle ground rather than fighting for a polar-opposite position bound to gain little traction.

“The way you get a utility to change behavior is to work with them, because they’re the 800-pound gorilla,” he said. “We have to shoot for what is the best possible outcome knowing we may have a more measured conclusion. That can apply to mining, utilities, the (Southern Nevada) Water Authority.”

The Conservation League is funded through grants and donations. Donations sometimes come from the very entities the league has issues with. In 2007, for instance, it received money from Barrick Mining.

“They liked the way we worked with them on a mercury bill,” he said. “We work with them on concrete policies versus, for instance, organizing against a mine. There are other groups that do that and do it well. They know we carry some political weight in the Legislature, so they know they need to work with us.”

Back to global warming, Rutledge believes we’ll begin feeling the heat, so to speak, within 15 or 20 years. Now is the time to start thinking about creating economic opportunities around global warming, which he thinks could come in the way of expanding the weatherization industry.

“A ton of jobs could be created now just on retrofitting buildings,” he said. “Then if we do that, it forces the utility to rethink their revenue models and could decouple profits from electricity sales.”

Rutledge will help select his replacement in the next few months. As difficult as that may be, it might be harder to leave a job he has held since 2006.

“Do anything for seven years,” he says, smiling, “and it becomes part of who you are.”

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown; he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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