Op-ed: ‘Energy Summit’ shows who’s driving Utah’s bus
Researchers from Princeton and Northwestern Universities have confirmed your most cynical assessment of our political landscape. They analyzed statistical data on 1,779 national issues regarding which of four groups had the most influence over national policy outcomes — average citizens, mass-based interest groups, business-dominated interest groups or the super rich. The results won’t surprise you at all.
The views of the average citizen have a near zero impact on public policy, mass interest groups have very little, but the two groups that essentially get what they want from lawmakers are rich individuals and business groups. Utah could be the poster child for this study.
In a just-completed survey by the AARP of Utah residents more than 50 years old, clean air was the issue of greatest concern to them, by a 10 to 20 percent margin. Other polling on related issues like renewable energy and climate show that a majority of citizens of this country, including those in Utah, want cleaner energy (are even willing to pay more to get it) and are becoming more concerned about the climate crisis. Polls reported by the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune within the last year show that two-thirds of Utahns want less pollution from industry and 99 percent are willing to make personal sacrifices for cleaner air.
So what are Utah’s political leaders and government agencies doing to respond to citizens’ concerns?
With rare exception, our state leaders continue clinging to the fantasy that Utah has the constitutional and moral authority to hijack federal land within its borders. Behind the mirage of providing more revenue for our public schools, the greedy end game of this effort is to basically turn federal land over to the powerful extraction industries. In fact, in defiance of the will of the people, the entire spectrum of Utah state policy continues to be a capitulation to mining and dirty energy.
Tesoro and Holly refineries want to send more gas to California and Las Vegas and pollute more in Salt Lake? No problem. Kennecott wants to expand and pollute more? Done. Tesoro wants a pipeline that runs across Wasatch Front’s dwindling culinary water sources? Check. Taxpayer-funded roads for oil trucks and a $2 billion railway to bring more crude from the Uinta Basin to the world market? Sure. Even more drilling and fracking permits in the same area that already has pollution levels equal to the tail pipes of 100 million cars? Of course, how many more would you like? Toxic fracking wastewater pits contaminating ground water and the atmosphere? Who cares? More freeways? Sure, but remember to drive less.
The Utah Office of Energy Development is helping sponsor the Uinta Basin Energy Summit on Sept. 4. The keynote speaker is Phelim McAleer, who poses as a documentary filmmaker and independent journalist, but who is a hard right-wing shill for the oil and gas industry.
McAleer and his partner Ann McElhinney promote extreme conservative politics, including climate crisis denialism and utter disdain for environmental and public health protection. McAleer is a featured speaker at corporate right-wing conferences where he has shared the podium with such scientific luminaries as Rush Limbaugh. His films in fact have been funded by mining companies and right-wing front groups with ties to the infamous climate obstructionists, the Koch Brothers.
McAleer and McElhinney’s most recent "documentary," FrackNation, is merely an oil and gas industry infomercial. They want you to believe that "fracking" is a miraculous gift, and that cheap fossil fuels are the key to a prosperous future. In public speeches they rant that fossil fuel critics are "liars," that environmentalists engage in sinister "indoctrination" with the help of public school teachers, who are also "force feeding" our children a message to "hate America," that humanity is "awful," and that "only the earth matters."
Members of Gov. Gary Herbert’s cabinet, Uinta County commissioners and U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop are also speakers at this conference, giving McAleer and McElhinney’s radical perspective the veneer of official state policy. Perhaps you already thought fossil fuel corporations run this state and your voice wasn’t being heard. This "energy summit" should remove all doubt.
Brian Moench is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.