SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said at his Energy Development Summit on Thursday that the state is moving toward using more renewable energy, but fossil fuels will remain important to the economy for the next generation.
Herbert's comments, during a press conference with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, came in response to criticism from environmentalists that the conference is too focused on oil and gas.
"The practical realities are the base load for energy production in this state and in this country is going to come from carbon-based fuels: oil, natural gas, coal, and-or nuclear power, or a combination thereof, for the next generation to come," he said.
Environmental activists say renewable energy sources should be a larger part of the summit, which brought about 1,100 government officials and business people to Salt Lake City for its fourth year this week.
"We have the ongoing and worsening threat of climate change, and we generally have many states and many countries very consciously trying to move away from fossil fuels," said Matt Pacenza with the environmental group HEAL Utah. "We just don't see a real interest or communication in pushing toward those clean energy sources in Utah."
Pacenza also questioned why the state pushes back against what he called modest federal rules to curb pollution.
Herbert, though, says that regulations should be made on the state level. He announced Monday that Utah will join Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota in a lawsuit challenging new rules for hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, on federal land.
Herbert, a Republican, called the rules a federal overreach and said they would cost thousands of dollars more per well.
Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said Western states are increasingly working together to create rigorous energy industry rules, but "when regulations come from Washington, they seem too often to have more red tape."
Also Thursday, Utah officials released a report showing that energy sector accounts for about $21 billion in economic activity in the state and makes up 15 percent of the total state economy. Petroleum refining accounts for the largest portion of energy economy, the report found.
Following the energy summit, Herbert is hosting an energy-themed breakfast fundraiser Friday morning at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City.
Marty Carpenter, the Herbert's spokesman, said the governor will speak for a few minutes and thank supporters, and then take questions from attendees about energy policy.
"You've got people who are here for the summit and that have interest in supporting the governor in additional ways, beyond just attending the summit," Carpenter said.
He said the governor's office won't release the list of those invited to the event but said any donors will be disclosed later on the governor's campaign finance reports.
The summit brought together economists, energy consultants, government regulators and power companies. Thursday morning, the attendees heard the Utah and Colorado governors speak about national energy policy on a panel moderated by Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute trade group.
Attendees visited booths from an array of companies and organizations between speeches on topics like rural energy development. Displays came from places like electric car companies, mining associations, oil companies, the Bureau of Land Management, clean fuel companies and engineering companies.
People from 22 states and three countries attended the summit, including Mexican Senator Benjamin Robles Montoya, who came to promote wind energy from his home state of Oaxaca.
Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.