Monday, February 28, 2011

Utah Governor to Roll Out Energy Initiative

by Michael Orton
licensed via Creative Commons


Ted Wilson, Utah Governor Gary Herbert's energy task force chairman, introduced Amanda Smith as the state's new "energy advisor" to a group of environmental stakeholders this morning and then both described their governor's latest energy initiative, scheduled to be released to the public on Wednesday, March 2. Ms. Smith, originally a Jon Huntsman, Jr. appointee, was previously the head of  Utah's Department of Environmental Quality and it was unclear if a new appointee to lead the UDEQ would be announced mid-week as well.

Noting that the original initiative draft from the 2010 meetings had been "pretty well beaten up by just about everybody" who held an interest, Wilson, a former mayor of Salt Lake City and avid outdoorsman, described the forthcoming document as Governor Herbert's "Ten Year Energy Initiative," and included the input offered at public hearings held throughout the state during the previous summer. Wilson stated that the revised initiative contained "a lot of renewables," but conceded that "not very many Americans are changing their way of life," leaving the activist stakeholders to wonder if this latest initiative would continue to favor commercial extraction industries. Utah is a major coal producer with significant natural resources contributing to its economic development even before it achieved statehood in 1896.

Lieutenant Governor Herbert succeeded Jon Huntsman, Jr. when the latter accepted an appointment by the Obama administration as ambassador to China in 2009. A realtor and former commissioner in Utah County south of Salt Lake, Gary Herbert was elected in his own right last November to a four-year term and came under significant criticism by the scientific community when he questioned the veracity of climate change last year. Wilson indicated that in the new initiative, Governor Herbert now accepts that he will be "governing the state on a warming planet."

Herbert is in Washington, D.C. this week, and many expect the republican governor to plea for the sovereignty of his state's public lands in testimony before a republican-dominated congressional hearing. That address is scheduled for tomorrow and Wilson said, "it will not be very nice" toward the Obama administration. The Bureau of Land Management currently oversees approximately 20 million acres in the state of Utah, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has recently described the designation of "wild lands" creating uncertainties for future management and leases by the commercial interests of Utah's coal, oil and gas producers. Wilson also indicated that the new initiative addresses the state's position on finite water resources in a new era of energy development.

Ms. Smith added that the new initiative "looks pretty different than the 2010 draft." She described the substance of the document as a set of recommendations covering eight areas with guiding principles "that consider energy development and its public health, environmental and economic impacts, regardless of the type of lens through which those are viewed."


At the conclusion of this 55 minute meeting, Mr. Wilson and Ms. Smith were asked if the new initiative contained any time-specific goals or objectives. They replied that it did not.