The Western Governors' Association (WGA), citing a lack of a federal energy program, will draft a national energy policy that it hopes will influence the next presidential administration.
Governors participating in the annual meeting in Wyoming said last week that because their states' oil and natural gas resources are being developed at a quickening clip, they need to take the lead to draft a workable national plan.
"We all know that nature abhors a vacuum, and so does politics," said Republican Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. "This group is very, very serious about putting forward a policy recommendation to the next administration." Huntsman is the incoming chairman of the WGA.
"For me, this is the No. 1 priority of western governors," Huntsman told Utah's Deseret News. "Time is essential in getting something drafted, vetted and negotiated." Although he is supporting presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona for president, Huntsman said that no matter which party wins the White House in November, energy is a top priority.
"I've heard from Sen. McCain that energy policy is gong to be extremely important early on," Huntsman told the News. "My Democratic friends are telling me [presumptive Democratic nominee Illinois Sen. Barack] Obama is saying the same thing. What we have here is the blessing of timing."
Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, the outgoing WGA chairman, noted that it's been the regional efforts in the West that have pushed strategies to clean up carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. Wyoming leads the nation in carbon production, and its state leaders have led efforts to find technology to capture coal-fired power generation emissions.
"What you see is all of those efforts pushing in the direction of forcing the federal government to finally do what it should do and figure out how to monetize carbon and integrate that into the economy," Freudenthal stated.
The WGA plans to name a working group to draft the document; Huntsman would likely lead it. At least three other Republican and Democratic governors also would be part of the group, Huntsman said. The policy would include ways to develop energy affordability, energy independence and the need to control emissions. The final document is expected to include incentives for research and development, goals to reduce the nation's carbon footprint and a national policy on cap-and-trade to limit emissions.
The governors' energy policy will have to be supported by officials from across the business sector to ensure that it's taken seriously by the next administration, said Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire.
"I'm behind us governors delivering something, but I think we need to deliver something more than a consensus document, and that is the hearts and minds of the people of our respective states," Gregoire said.
British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, one of four Canadian provincial leaders who attended the WGA meeting, noted that not all North Americans are convinced that climate change is real. But the regional governments have to take action regardless, he said.
"I don't actually look at this as a challenge between the north side of the border and the south side of the border," Campbell said. "This is a challenge for all of us."
General Electric Co. CEO Jeff Immelt, who keynoted a luncheon and participated in discussions with the group, said the United States is part of a global effort dealing with how to provide clean energy and water.
"If we don't push it in the United States, other countries are going to do this," Immelt told the group. "It's not like other people are waiting for us to lead."
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