Western governors — ’Obama, act quickly on energy’
By Brock Vergakis
SALT LAKE CITY — The governors of the nation’s largest energy-producing states are encouraging President-elect Barack Obama to quickly adopt a national energy policy that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The bipartisan Western Governors’ Association has delivered Obama a four-page letter outlining what steps it believes his administration should take in his first 100 days in office to address the issue.
Among the recommendations are annually spending tens of billions of dollars to develop clean energy technology; establishing an ’aggressive’ greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal to help stop global warming; and proposing a mandatory national system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through "market-based mechanisms."
"We must not repeat the mistakes of the past," says the letter signed by association chairman, Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah, and vice chairman, Democratic Gov. Dem Brian Schweitzer of Montana. "The future of our nation depends on it."
Huntsman said Obama’s administration should listen to the WGA because its 19 states are responsible for 94 percent of the country’s onshore oil reserves, 66 percent of its coal reserves and 100 percent of its installed solar generation.
"To begin with, it’s a very energy relevant region geographically. No. 2, it’s a very substantial road map that speaks to the whole moonshot (philosophy). If we’re going to do something, we need to do it right. We need to be big and bold," he told The Associated Press .
The WGA is encouraging Obama to improve mass transportation, bring more fuel-efficient and near-zero emission vehicles on to the market and develop renewable resources such as wind and solar energy.
Other proposals include establishing an oil import reduction goal; expanding the electric grid; and creating technology to have nearly no greenhouse gas emissions from new coal-fired electric plants in 10 years and from existing generation by 2030.
At first glance, the Utah Mining Association said, it is supportive of WGA’s efforts to focus on a national energy plan that reduces greenhouse gases.
"But as you know, the devil is in the details in how you get there," said association president David Litvin. "In this country right now we have a big push for renewables and many people think we can just move off our traditional sources of energy supply, but over 50 percent of our electricity comes from coal. Renewables only count for 2 percent of electricity produced. You can’t move from 2 percent to 50 percent overnight."
The WGA letter will likely find a receptive audience in the Obama administration.
Obama has pledged support for an emissions cap-and-trade system and would establish annual targets to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them another 80 percent by 2050.
President George Bush has been criticized for failing to do enough to combat climate change, and Obama has promised quick action to address the issue.
"I promise you this: When I am president, any governor who’s willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that’s willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that’s willing to join the cause of combatting climate change will have an ally in the United States of America," Obama said in a video message to governors and others attending a Los Angeles summit on the issue last week.
On Nov. 21, Huntsman and Schweitzer met with John Podesta, co-chairman of Obama’s transition team, in Washington, D.C., to promote the WGA proposal.
In recent weeks, Huntsman has said Republicans have been too unwilling to champion the environment as an important issue.
"The environment really isn’t a red or a blue issue. It’s an American issue. I’m trying my very best as just one Republican, and I know there are others, to remind people of that fact — and that it will take a bipartisan effort," Huntsman said.
Huntsman’s recent outspokenness is leading some Republicans to identify him as a potential reformer within the national party as it seeks a new direction after heavy losses nationwide on Nov. 4.
Speaking up on the environment is something that may be easier for him to do than for some of his GOP colleagues. Huntsman won re-election in one of the nation’s most conservative states this month with a record 77.7 percent of the vote and has pledged not to seek a third term.
Still, even here, Huntsman’s ideas on global warming, the environment and establishing a regional cap-and-trade system are met with plenty of resistance from within his own party.
His former chief of staff, Jason Chaffetz, rallied delegates to their feet this spring at the state GOP convention on his way toward winning a congressional seat by saying: "Jon Huntsman, as much as I like you, you’re wrong on global warming. It’s a farce."
The state’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill prohibiting the governor from entering into agreements with other states after he had Utah join the Western Climate Initiative, which would establish a regional market to trade carbon emissions and is designed to keep costs down for those affected.
Huntsman vetoed the bill, but the reason lawmakers didn’t override it is because Huntsman pledged to consult them about similar pacts in the future before committing the state to anything.
Many lawmakers don’t believe global warming is caused by people, and they’re unwilling to establish a cap-and-trade system because they fear it will hurt businesses and drive up costs for consumers.
"The governor feels pretty emboldened by the margin of victory he had and that everyone likes him. And he’s right, he’s very popular, but he’s got to get 15 votes in the Senate. So he’s got a ways to go," said Senate Majority Whip Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City. "The fact is, it’s probably a hard sell for the governor to make."
Some conservatives have scoffed that Huntsman is betraying Republican values on the issue.
Jenkins declined to comment on it, but Huntsman said there’s no question he’s acting like a Republican.
"The Republican values I’m speaking to are right out of ... Teddy Roosevelt’s playbook. He taught us all to revere our land, to leave a legacy ... to the next generation," Huntsman said. "I’m also doing a very Republican thing to incentivize and develop technologies that are going to fuel our economy."
On the Net:
Western Governors Association: www.westgov.org