Environmentalists clash with Business Coalition at energy summit

Renewable energy advocates staged a "Millionaires for global warming" protest outside the New Mexico Business Coalition's energy summit designed to "explain the extremist environmentalist agenda". 

An energy summit organized by the New Mexico Business Coalition drew noisy protests from environmental and clean energy advocates on Wednesday.

The summit — sponsored primarily by oil and gas companies active in New Mexico, such as Chevron and Mack Energy Corp. — aimed to inject more “common sense” into a local debate over the future of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington while highlighting the benefits of New Mexico’s energy industry, Business Coalition President and founder Carla Sonntag said in an opening address.

The summit, at the Sheraton Hotel in Uptown, also aimed to “balance” public debate in the face of aggressive environmentalist efforts to distort facts, she said.

“We need a constructive conversation — a common sense, level-headed approach,” Sonntag said. “The other side is generally not interested in compromise, but rather in an all-or-nothing approach.”

Sonntag showed a video of some environmental protests in New Mexico, and said a recent study by the Business Coalition showed more than 120 groups are working to impose an “extremist” environmental and clean energy agenda on the state.

“We want to counter the screaming and the yelling and all the other nonsense that goes on,” she said.

Outside the hotel, a crowd of protesters held a demonstration against what they called the “Millionaires for Global Warming” conference. In particular, the groups opposed the summit’s support for Public Service Co. of New Mexico’s plan to shut half of the San Juan power plant to meet federal environmental mandates, while significantly increasing its ownership stake in one of the two generating units that will remain open.

“The New Mexico Business Coalition is embracing PNM along with the oil and gas industry by supporting PNM’s plan for more coal and nuclear power generation in New Mexico,” said Tom Solomon, co-coordinator of 350.org New Mexico, which helped organize the rally. “While PNM is inside the conference with its supporters, we are out here promoting clean energy.”

The summit included a three-member panel of speakers who addressed PNM’s San Juan plan, the beneficial economic impact of the oil and gas industry in New Mexico and state and federal regulations that they say impede energy development. It also included a speech by Rep. Steve Pearce, R-NM, who said a balance is needed to advance environmental goals while protecting economic development and jobs.

“I believe government at all levels is running out of control, and nowhere is that clearer than in the energy sector,” Pearce said.

At one point, an environmental advocate interrupted Pearce’s speech, storming out of the room to protest what he called a lack of opposing views at the summit.

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