Senator Harry Reid, who once famously said coal makes us sick, is sick of coal.
Specifically, he's sick of the coal-fired Reid Gardner power plant, located in Moapa. And on Tuesday, headlining his fifth annual National Clean Energy Summit, he called on NV Energy to close the plant for the sake of nearby residents.
"This soot, and the dangerous particulates inside it, are literally killing the Paiutes," said Reid. (The nearby Moapa Band of Paiute Indians have reported illnesses and even deaths, allegedly caused by toxic ash thrown off by the Reid Gardner plant.)
"That's why it's time to close the dirty relic, Reid Gardner," Reid said. "For NV Energy, the first steps should be turning out the lights at Reid Gardner, and turning them out forever."
Later, at a news conference with members of the tribe, the Sierra Club and others, Reid said he would not accept a phased shutdown of the plant. "The solution is to close the plant," he said flatly. "We want all the boilers shut off."
In its stead, Reid offered the chance to build a solar plant on Paiute land that would replace the energy lost by closing Reid Gardner.
But NV Energy isn't buying new solar energy, having met and exceeded its state-mandated quota for green energy. According to the company, solar power costs 11 to 13 cents per kilowatt hour, higher than coal or natural gas, which comes in at 3 to 5 cents per kilowatt hour.
"We have a responsibility to the ratepayers to provide reasonable prices," says Rob Stillwell, spokesman for NV Energy. "It's not a surprise as to where he [Reid] stands," Stillwell added. "It [the speech] was not a surprise."
Although the Reid Gardner plant was built in 1965, Stillwell says it has yet to reach the end of its useful life, and has been augmented over the years to make its emissions cleaner. But if the company were denied use of the plant, he says, it could make up for the lost electrons with other resources owned by the company.
Overall, Stillwell says, NV Energy has seven natural-gas fired plants, two coal-fired plants (including Reid Gardner), and 44 renewable energy projects, with eight still in development. There are 22 geothermal projects and 12 solar projects, though six are still in the planning stages.
But that's not good enough for Reid. In the closing days of the George W. Bush administration, he thwarted efforts to open new coal-fired power plants in the state.
And he declared in 2008 that one of the hidden costs of coal plants is that "Coal makes us sick, oil makes us sick, it's ruining our country, it's ruining our world."
And Reid hasn't changed his mind. In his keynote to the summit Tuesday, he reviewed a litany of natural disasters -- droughts, heat waves, wildfires, extreme thunderstorms, falling Mississippi River levels -- to assert that coal-fired power plants harm the environment, too.
"In the words of one respected climate scientist: 'This is what global warming looks like,'" Reid said. "Yet despite having overwhelming evidence and public opinion on our side, deniers still exist, fueled and funded by dirty energy profits. These people aren't just on the other side of this debate. They're on the other side of reality."
And, the senator added, it's time to end the debate. "It's time for us all -- whether we're leaders in Washington, members of the media, scientists, academics, environmentalists or utility industry executives -- to stop acting like those who ignore the crisis or deny it exists entirely have a valid point of view. They don't."
Harry Reid isn't just sick of coal; he's sick of everybody who defends it.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist, and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.