EPA chief among heavy hitters at Aspen Environment Forum | VailDaily.com

EPA chief among heavy hitters at Aspen Environment Forum

Lisa P. Jackson

ASPEN, Colorado ” The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will be the keynote speaker at an Aspen event Wednesday just days after proposing a monumental shift in how the country handles global warming.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson sent a proposal to the White House that says global warming should be treated at a threat to the public’s health and welfare, the Washington Post reported Monday. That could result in greater regulation of greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act.

The prospect has huge implications for the environment and economy.

Jackson was scheduled to be the opening keynote speaker at the Aspen Environment Forum, an event organized by The Aspen Institute and National Geographic, before the proposal was unveiled. Jackson will discuss “environmental progress” and “new directions” in the United States, according to the program.

She is one of a handful of environmental policymakers from the Obama administration who will be among the presenters at the forum, which runs Wednesday night through Saturday. More than 100 heavy hitters that include scientists, business leaders, researchers as well as academics will take the stage for the event.

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Nancy Sutley, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, a top aide to President Obama, is scheduled to participate, as is Jane Lubchenco, the first woman appointed to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Those three woman are expected to play major roles in the Obama administration’s efforts to focus on a new energy economy and reduce the U.S. contribution to climate change.

Their presence is a big boost to an event that is in its second year. National Geographic and The Aspen Institute teamed last year to hold a broad-based inaugural forum. It attracted about 350 participants. Organizers expect a similar crowd this year despite the challenges of the sour economy.

This year’s event focuses on energy “how to produce it in a sustainable way while realizing that the world economy is in shambles. The event is called, “Powering the Planet: Energy for the Long Run.”

The Institute and National Geographic picked the topic and started lining up speakers before the 2008 forum was finished ” simply because energy is such an important and evolving issues, according to David Monsma, executive director of the energy and environment program for The Aspen Institute.

“This was going to be an issue that was front and center no matter what happened” over the course of the last year, Monsma said.

The overview on the forum’s website provides an intriguing summary of what the event is about: “The gradual tightening of our energy supplies and the increased impact of energy extraction and use are pushing our planet’s sustainability to unbearable levels,” the overview said. “Now, we are challenged to find methods of powering our planet as growing population and the continued aggressive industrialization of the developing world continue to increase our demand for cheap plentiful energy ” that can both sustain us and be sustained well into the future.”

Monsma said that “nerds and geeks” such as himself ponder daily such issues. For the forum, organizers recruited experts who aren’t necessarily household names, but are well known within energy-related circles, to share ideas.

And sharing ideas is what the forum is all about. Like the Institute’s popular Aspen Ideas Festival in the summer, most of the presenters don’t just give a 20-minute speech and split. They hobnob with other experts in panel discussions and special presentations. The goal is to expose the participants to ideas that they wouldn’t have flushed out on their own, Monsma said.

Because of that interaction, the Institute doesn’t refer to the forum as a conference.

The forum helps sift through what pathways are possible in the energy-related debate and where it would be best to invest critical dollars.

“You will hear ideas you’ve never heard before,” Monsma said.

Attendees get a chance to watch it unfold, although the opportunity doesn’t come cheap. A general forum pass is $1,800. Passes to individual days, Thursday through Saturday, are $500.

Details about each day’s events and a link to online registration can be found at http://www.aspenenvironment.org/program.


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