About 100 people turned out Monday morning to protest the National Clean Energy Summit 2.0.
They waved flags and carried homemade signs denouncing everything from carbon cap-and-trade proposals to reform for the nation’s health care system to the presidency of Barack Obama in general.
By 10:30 a.m., the protesters were out in full force. Counter-demonstrators chanting in support of Obama and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., had packed up mostly professionally made signs and headed out of the heat.
The Obama and Reid protesters remained in force on the corner of Swenson Street and Tropicana Avenue near the Thomas & Mack Center on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus, the site of the summit.
“How can you help the environment if you bankrupt the economy that has to do it?” asked protester Greg Neff, 50, of Sandy Valley.
Neff hoisted a sign that said, “Don’t Tread on Me,” and chatted with Bill Parson of Moapa, who was there to drum up support to campaign for Reid’s U.S. Senate seat.
Because the event was an energy summit, many protesters focused on the proposed cap-and-trade program that would regulate carbon emissions. Reid, who is Senate majority leader, has great influence over the outcome of pending cap-and-trade legislation.
Carbon produced by burning fossil fuels is widely believed to contribute to a gradual rise in the Earth’s temperature, which could eventually alter the climate to the point that it becomes less habitable for humans.
But protesters focused on the potential economic fallout of cap-and-trade programs, saying they would make it hard for the nation’s economy to recover by making energy too costly.
“I’m a fan of green energy, but put it in place before you destroy what you have,” Neff said. “If you don’t, you destroy a nation.”
While most of the protesters were friendly while speaking out on issues, some simply flung charges of socialism at Reid and Obama, and at least one small group had a sign that referred to Obama as an “anti-American Arab.”
Protester Bettye Gilmore of Henderson said it would be unfair to lump all the protesters with fringe activists who attack Obama based on race or to suggest that criticism leveled at Obama is driven by corporate and high-level Republican sources who distribute talking points on the Internet.
Gilmore said her opposition to Obama was over the issues, not his status as the first black president of the United States.
“It is not a racial issue. I think Condoleezza Rice would have made a great president. She is a conservative,” Gilmore said of the former secretary of state, who is black.
At the summit, speakers including former Vice President Al Gore and current Energy Secretary Steven Chu defended the position that shifting America’s energy to non-carbon-producing sources is critical to the long-term health of the economy.
They also said a national-level effort — derided by protesters as socialism or a burdensome tax — is critical to preserving the planet.
“Just what the doctor ordered is a national program to repower America,” Gore said. “Sooner or later we are going to have to come to grips with the fact the climate crisis is threatening the future of our civilization.”
Organizers of the demonstrators who backed the energy agenda behind the conference said they counted about 275 supporters on hand.
The group included a woman who was laid off from her job as plumber and whose husband, an ironworker, also was out of work, the organizers said.
They targeted the summit as a demonstration site to show support for the creation of new jobs developing green energy.
“This is really a fantastic opportunity for environmental groups, for labor groups and people looking for jobs,” said Robert Disney of the Sierra Club, who was with the supporters. “For folks to be against it, it just doesn’t make any sense.”
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at email@example.com or 702-477-3861.