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Herbert, Stewart more extreme than HEAL

Salt Lake Tribune

It’s been about a month since a spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert labeled HEAL Utah, our tenacious and principled nonprofit, "an extreme special interest group." That reaction came after our staff resolutely criticized Herbert’s choice of a political operative and former oil and gas lobbyist, Cody Stewart, to be his new energy adviser.

Before we address whether HEAL’s criticism of Stewart was fair, let’s take a look at whether HEAL — a group supported by Utahns who share our mission to promote clean energy and protect Utah from nuclear and toxic risks — is in fact "extreme."

Below are critical issues facing our state. Do Utahns agree with HEAL’s positions?

1. HEAL Utah fights to prevent EnergySolutions from bringing hotter radioactive waste to its facility in the West Desert, from foreign waste to depleted uranium to blended nuclear power plant waste.

Utahns have overwhelmingly supported HEAL’s actions on these issues with 76 percent opposed to depleted uranium, 68 percent supporting a ban on foreign waste, 78 percent opposing a bill to remove the governor and Legislature from nuclear waste decisions and 86 percent opposed to hotter class B&C nuclear wastes, according to KSL, Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News polls.

2. HEAL Utah, along with other organizations and citizens, is fighting to stop the proposed Green River nuclear reactors. A majority of Utahns, 55 percent, oppose the reactors (KSL, March 18, 2011). Earlier, only 38 percent favored nuclear reactors in Utah.

3. HEAL is dedicated to renewable energy in Utah. Currently just 4 percent of our power is from renewables; Utah ranks seventh out of eight Mountain West states. With Utah’s boundless solar, wind and geothermal resources, we should be leading the country, not lagging.

And Utahns want renewables: 80 percent of customers served by Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems want more of them, and sooner (Tribune, Nov. 23, 2010). In a Deseret News/KSL poll in 2007, 85 percent said it was definitely or probably a good idea to switch.

The overall thrust is clear: For years, Utahns have overwhelmingly agreed with HEAL on the issues we work hard on day-to-day. If we are "extreme," then so are most residents of Utah neighborhoods.

So let’s look at Herbert’s choice for energy adviser. When Stewart was selected, we had only his record and resume to examine. He has been a legislative aide, a lobbyist for big oil companies and a staffer on a series of "pro-energy" groups, quietly funded by oil and gas companies.

In fact his rapid transition from the public sector to big business advocacy led Stewart to describe himself as "the poster boy for the revolving door" in a Tribune article on lobbying.

We looked at his role in the notorious Exxon-Mobile-funded "Stop the War on the Poor" campaign in which "environmentalists" opposed to unfettered oil and gas drilling were blamed for urban poverty. Really? Such distortions have no place in our energy future or the health of the people of Utah.

The governor, in his press release announcing Stewart’s appointment, characterized him as someone who has "a balanced public policy approach" and "sound judgment" and who is qualified to develop "environmentally responsible energy." We agree those are the criteria for an energy adviser, but even though we have now had a cordial meeting with Stewart, we still fear this choice may drag Utah backward, not forward.

A choice between HEAL Utah or Herbert and Stewart, who embodies extreme "special interest" energy policies, is a contest the state can’t afford to have played out. The people of Utah concur: Our state deserves a safe and clean energy future.

Mary Ellen Navas and Bob Archibald of Sandy are co-presidents of HEAL Utah’s board of directors. Each is now retired.