PARK CITY, Utah -- Even when 19 state governors sign off on the same report, it can be hard to get them on the same page.
The Western Governors' Association on Friday unveiled its "10-Year Energy Vision," a policy paper that calls for Western states to take a lead in shoring up the nation's energy security while balancing production with environmental and wildlife protections.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R), who concluded his tenure as the group's chairman during its annual meeting at a resort here on the Wasatch Range over the weekend, praised WGA's members for reaching consensus despite "the diversity of thought" and resources in each state.
But those differences do still exist, as demonstrated by Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) in an exchange during a panel discussion on energy policy.
While Mead pressed fellow panelist and Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman to explain how the Obama administration will approach coal under its new climate plan -- Mead expressed disappointment that he heard only a brief, and in his view, negative mention of coal in the president's policy speech last week -- Sandoval bragged that his state is shifting away from coal-based electricity.
"I just signed a bill that retires all our coal-fired plants by 2025," Sandoval said, prompting laughter from the audience.
While such disagreements suggest potential challenges as individual governors seek to apply the joint policy proposals to their own states, Herbert said he nonetheless hopes the WGA plan could form the basis for a national energy policy.
"It gives us a pathway forward for success in this country, and we're going to lead here in the West," said Herbert, who focused on energy policy during his time at the WGA's helm.
The report outlines six goals, including achieving North American energy security; providing a variety of energy sources, from renewable, nontraditional and traditional sources; increasing energy efficiency from electricity and natural gas; improving infrastructure; protecting wildlife and the environment, including the reduction of greenhouse gases; and making Western states leaders in energy education and innovation.
The Energy Department's Poneman praised the energy policy plan, released in conjunction with two companion publications, including a series of essays from 15 governors and other officials, noting that "it does dovetail well with the president's all-of-the-above energy strategy."
"There's a lot of really outstanding work that's reflected in here," Poneman told the WGA panel, then joked: "Please don't take offense if I say we could have written some of it ourselves."
In particular, Poneman pointed to the WGA's calls for innovation and highlighted federal-loan guarantees that have helped to fund wind and solar projects across several states.
"It shows we are natural partners, and we can benefit from the innovation, the resources and the dynamism of the Western economies and actually set the template that hopefully can be replicated in other parts of the country," Poneman said.
Cost vs. value
EPA acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe likewise emphasized his hopes for better coordination between states and federal government as his agency seeks to implement new climate change policies.
"One of the things I hope to be able to go back to Washington from spending a day here with all of you, particularly with the governors, is a commitment that we'll lean into this and try to figure out how to work on this together," Perciasepe said.
While the WGA's energy plan has significant overlap with the plans announced by White House last week, many governors declined to speculate on how those proposals would affect their own states.
"When you talk about the implications, I think we're still trying to decipher what the implications are," Herbert said at a press conference Friday, noting that he was paraphrasing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has criticized the plan as a "war on coal."
But Herbert added: "I think the goal of having sustainable energy in our country, that is in fact affordable and cleaner, I believe that's what the public is demanding. ... We need to find ways to get to that point."
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R) likewise remained skeptical of Obama's proposals, suggesting that it could cripple his state's ability to generate energy from some sources.
"Coming out of D.C., we hear a lot about people who understand the cost of everything but the value of very little," Otter said Friday, referencing his own time in the House. "If we're going to stay competitive in the world, if we're going to stay competitive with each other, then we have to constantly balance the value with the cost. And I think that's what we've done in our plan."
The WGA announced yesterday the first application of its energy plan, as it seeks more involvement in reforming regulations that govern the permitting, review and siting of transmission projects.
In a statement, the group, which made its request in a letter to White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley, also said it wants to ensure Western states have an role equal to that of federal officials in the designation of energy corridors.
Click here to read the full "10-Year Energy Vision" plan.
Click here to read the "State of Energy in the West."
Click here to read the "Energy Perspectives" report.
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