Western governors discuss political tripwires, environmental regulations during annual meeting
Governors from across the West and some special guests are coming together this week to talk about key issues facing the region.
The Western Governors' Association’s (WGA)annual meeting kicked off on Monday in Boulder, Colo., with a few words from the group's executive director, Jack Waldorf. He said the bipartisan organization was created to be an information exchange for all the West's governors and facilitate collective action.
“WGA does not exist without the bipartisan support and leadership from the governors,” Waldorf said. “We have a strong, dedicated group of governors who check both their egos and a party affiliation at the door when here at WGA. Without this we wouldn't be who we are, and we couldn't do what we do.”
During various roundtable discussions, governors at the convention have a chance to discuss some big issues, such as wildfire prevention, water management, artificial intelligence and health care.
The first event on June 26, day one of the three-day conference, was a discussion with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan. Jared Polis, Colorado’s governor and chair of the WGA, introduced him with a message that highlighted the importance of collaboration between different government agencies.
“Whether it's wildfires affecting air quality – as we are no strangers to across the American West – watershed issues hurting farmers, water treatment facilities, the cooperation between the federal and state government and EPA is more important than ever before,” Polis said.
In Regan's subsequent address, he championed the work of the Biden administration to provide billions of dollars to states through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, stating that it will help forge powerful partnerships between state and federal agencies. Regan expressed the necessity of working closely with local governments to make sure the funding reaches the communities that need it most.
“These executives, state and local leaders, know your communities more intimately than the federal government ever could,” Regan said. “After all, you are the eyes and ears on the ground. We need to hear from you.”
Regan highlighted some of the efforts governors are already taking to address issues on their own, from New Mexico’s oil and gas emissions rule to Colorado’s electric school bus program and Wyoming’s efforts toadvancecarbon capture technology. Regan advised leaders to work together to find the best solutions for each state.
“There is not a one-size-fits-all," Regan said. "This is an attitude about partnership and investing in every community.”
Many of the concerns mentioned by governors in their roundtable discussion with Regan involved the political tripwires that can ensnare progress, including the crossover of multiple agencies in responding to natural disasters, outdated legislative language and red tape.
Regan reassured governors that his team at the EPA is trying to reduce the “bureaucratic headache” for everyone by offering states advice on how to interpret rules handed down by his agency, as well as conceding some of the power of implementation to states.
“None of us really like the bureaucracy… but that doesn't limit our ability to be creative,” he said. “We have state secretaries, we have governors, myself, regional administrators. There's absolutely no reason that we can't figure out how to get beyond some of these issues.”
Governors also discussed the recent ruling by the Supreme Court that severely limits the reach of the Clean Water Act, forcing the EPA to propose new wetland rules . Idaho Gov. Brad Little said it behooves the agency to work closely with states as that process begins.
“I would just ask that [you] remember we states out there when you're redoing those rules so that perhaps we can tell you where there might be some pitfalls and difficulty in enforcing and and implementing those rules,” Little said.
At the end of the day, Regan said he wants to ensure that political rhetoric and bureaucracy don't get in the way of finding solutions collaboratively.
“Our job is to protect the public, and that's what we want to do,” he said. “I'm a former state regulator. I understand the challenges on the ground in each of these states, and so I've pledged to work with our state regulators and our governors to be sure that we're not making the same mistakes of the past.”
The conference will continue through Wednesday.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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