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Governors agree to disagree on climate, focus on future energy strategies

Published July 1, 2013 11:32 am

Politics • Discussion over climate change, energy policy breaks along party lines.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Deer Valley • Seven Western governors meeting here Sunday touted their new "10-year Energy Vision" as a bipartisan solution. But the dialogue that followed about the future of energy in the West split along party lines.

GOP governors said nothing about the links between climate change and such fossil fuels as coal and natural gas, energy sources that make their region what they dubbed "the nation's energy breadbasket."

In contrast, Democrats, along with a Canadian premier and two officials from President Barack Obama's administration echoed the president's message from last week's climate policy speech at Georgetown University: Meeting future energy needs must include cutting greenhouse-gas pollution, the emissions blamed for climate change.

"Climate change is an issue, whether we like it or not," said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, a member of Canada's New Democratic Party, in the final discussion at the Western Governors Association's annual meeting. "It's an issue that has to be addressed."

Four years ago, then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. kicked off the governors' meeting at Deer Valley with a panel on climate change. He had just been tapped to be U.S. ambassador to China.

Then-Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert had to take over his predecessor's conference agenda and openly voiced doubts about the science behind climate change.

Once he became governor, Herbert reassigned state staffers who tracked climate policy and removed Utah from the carbon-trading Western Climate Initiative.

Now the governors' association strategy crafted this year under Herbert's leadership term focuses on energy security; clean, affordable and reliable sources; energy efficiency; an updated power grid; environmental and natural resource protection; and innovation.

"We can now lead this country in the right direction," Herbert said Sunday, describing the strategy as a blueprint.

Wyoming's GOP Gov. Matt Mead challenged Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel B. Poneman on why Obama's recent speech referenced coal only briefly — and negatively — when it generates nearly half the nation's electricity.

And Republican Gov. Butch Otter of Idaho complained about the federal governments doublespeak on energy. He blamed vehicle fuel-efficiency standards for devastating wildfires, carbon emissions from those fires, declining transportation-tax revenues in the states, and for ruining salmon runs.

After the discussion, which took place as record-hot temperatures in the West portended another summer of withering drought, the administration officials insisted their energy goals jive with the governors' even though the association's plan is silent on "global warming" and "climate change."

"We are very much on the same trajectory," said Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe, whose agency is tasked with reining in power plant emissions.

"The bottom line is we will have coal," he said, pointing to efforts to make coal cleaner with carbon capture and storage. "And there are technologies that are emerging."

Poneman echoed that view, noting Obama, who sees tackling climate change as a moral issue, and the governors think alike on energy efficiency and modernizing the power grid.

"It is possible to speak of this in terms of climate and in terms of clean-energy innovation and energy security," he said, "and still do the same very smart things that are going to help the American people.

fahys@sltrib.com

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