Utah Governor Gary Herbert chairs the Western Governors Association, so this year, the group held its annual meeting in Utah. The topics included reforming health care and education, but a lot of the focus was on energy and public lands.
The centerpiece of the governors’ energy discussion was a document called the Ten Year Energy Vision, outlining objectives for developing both traditional and green energy sources while protecting wildlife and the environment. Governor Herbert, who’s a Republican, pointed out that the majority of America’s energy production is coming from the West, and what happens in this region can set the national agenda.
“We are leading this country into energy sustainability and having a reasonable and rational approach to energy development, which this country needs to have.”
The goals of the Ten Year Vision include putting the country on the path to energy security, building a strong energy distribution network and protecting wildlife and natural resources.
Climate change is also something the governors say they need to keep in mind following President Obama’s speech last week. John Hickenlooper is the Governor of Colorado and a Democrat.
Hickenlooper told reporters, “You want to examine all energy sources and take into account the benefits and costs of each of those sources and begin making decisions based on, not just price or cost, but that’s an important part of it, but also thinking about carbon emissions and the quality of our air and making sure that we look long-term even as we look short-term. So a lot of what the president talked about is in this ten-year energy vision.
The strained relationship between Western states and the federal government was also a key issue at the conference, and something the new Secretary of the Interior tried to address when she spoke to the governors on Friday. Governor Herbert questioned Secretary Sally Jewell on a common theme – just what balance means in the management of public lands.
"How do we find the balance point of our unique states, unique demands, our unique needs. The nation needs energy. We want to protect those pristine areas. How do we find that balance,” Herbert asked Jewell.
She responded, “I think finding the balance starts by understanding each other and understanding the issues we face. I can tell you that, having spent quite a bit of time the last couple of years in Moab, Utah and hiking in Canyonlands, in Arches, that a balance to that community is healthy national parks that are well staffed that can service the people that come through those communities and have a great visitor experience.”
In other communities, Jewell says, balance means grazing that has been supporting families for generations. And she says Western communities benefit from having federal lands close by.
One thing Jewell wouldn’t talk about when she was questioned by reporters afterward is the demand by the state of Utah to take control of federal lands in the state.
She did repeat a promise she made during her Senate confirmation – that there will be no new national monuments or other major land use designations without consulting local residents.
“I committed in that process that we would engage local communities," Jewell told reporters. "That we would listen to people on the ground about what they want for the lands around their areas. What are the special places that they feel strongly need to be conserved? What are the areas that have high potential for development?”
Jewell also pointed out that she and other federal employees weren’t staying at the exclusive Montage resort at Deer Valley, where the conference was held. Unlike the governors, they got less expensive rooms in Salt Lake.