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John Hollenhorst ReportingA ballroom full of experts, politicians and interest groups today began tackling a subject that many believe will be the defining issue of the century -- energy. The big question is how to get enough energy without damaging our climate and underwriting our enemies.
The Utah Energy Summit has already drawn fire. Some say it's a stacked deck in favor of traditional energy industries. The opening day, though, featured strong rhetoric about the urgent need to break the status quo and make big changes.
By one measure, we don't have an energy problem. In the West we have 300 years worth of coal. However, if we burn it, with existing technology, we're on a collision course with an issue the Governor says is a critical priority.
Governor Huntsman said, "Climate change, one of the most compelling issues of our time. Dealing with it in my opinion is not a choice but, rather, an imperative."
The Utah Energy Summit was put together at the behest of the National Governor's Association. If any good, new ideas come out of it, the timing is advantageous. Momentum is building and Congress is about to begin drafting Global Warming legislation. Industry is groping for new technology to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Representative Jim Matheson said, "We face a real challenge with coal. If we try to limit our coal without a viable alternative, you're going to see natural gas prices go through the roof, and electricity prices go through the roof. And that would be very bad for our economy."
There's another horn to the dilemma; the US depends on other countries for well over half our oil.
The Governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer, addressed that issue. "And probably the greatest challenge we have today is find a way to produce fuel in this country so we no longer send $240 billion a year to dictators who would like to destroy our way of life. That's the challenge."
The US had a similar discussion in the 70's and did little to solve the problem. This time there's a sense the stakes are higher, that politicians need to think generations beyond the next election and make hard choices.
"Short term pain for long term gain. And our political system doesn't accommodate that very well," said. Matheson.
Critics say the Energy Summit was organized by a man with links to Vice President Dick Cheney and to energy industries at the heart of the global warming problem. But the events over the next couple of days will include input from environmentalists and others outside the industry. Governor Huntsman says he's delighted by the cross-section of interests represented here.