Our debt is unbelievable, and we have assets that are not being used. And federal lands are one of those assets. —T. Boone Pickens

SALT LAKE CITY — T. Boone Pickens, the author of an energy independence plan for the United States, said Wednesday the natural resources on the federally owned land in Utah and the rest of West should be developed.

"Our debt is unbelievable, and we have assets that are not being used. And federal lands are one of those assets," Pickens, a keynote speaker at the Western Governors Association meeting that begins Friday, told the Deseret News.

The billionaire chairman and CEO of the Dallas-based energy hedge fund BP Capital backed Utah's controversial push to get the federal government to give up control of much of the state's public lands.

"I do think the Utah Legislature knows that state and knows what's best for the state, and if they feel like the federal lands should be developed, well, put pressure on to develop them," Pickens said. "It's that simple. I don't see those things as pretty complicated."

Pickens, who once owned a mine near Vernal and sent his daughter to Rowland Hall school in Salt Lake City, said he saw nothing wrong with the push started last year by Utah lawmakers.

"There's plenty of wilderness in Utah," he said. "You're not going to have that much development of federal lands for the production of oil and gas that you won't be able to find a pristine trail you can walk on for several hours without having your vista interrupted."

Alan Matheson, Gov. Gary Herbert's senior environmental advisor, said energy is an issue key to the West. Herbert is the outgoing WGA chairman, and Matheson is the outgoing chairman of the association's staff advisory council.

"Public lands issues are important and something that needs to be dealt with," Matheson said, citing efforts already underway to identify federal lands that need protection and those that "can be developed in a responsible way."

A study is also underway to determine the costs and benefits of implementing the 2012 Legislature's Transfer of Public Lands Act that demands the federal government cede holdings in the state.

Matheson said a new WGA plan for energy development in the West, put together by Herbert, a Republican, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, will recognize the importance of public lands as a source for energy.

The plan will be released at the meeting Friday, the first of three days of sessions on topics including energy, public lands, healthcare reform, education and endangered species expected to attract some 400 people to Deer Valley.

Pickens said his keynote speech Friday will focus on the same message at the heart of his nearly 5-year-old "Pickens Plan," which calls for reducing the country's dependence on oil from overseas.

"It's the same old message I've chirped," Pickens said. "Get on your own resources."

The former head of Mesa Petroleum, one of the country's largest independent oil companies, said relying on OPEC oil means "paying for both sides of the war. If you have money going to OPEC, some part of it goes to the Taliban and al-Qaida."

Pickens said Utah is a leader in turning to natural gas for transportation needs.

"How can you be wrong saying, 'Use your own fuel?' It's cheaper, it's cleaner, it's domestic," he said. "I mean, who's going to be against that?"

Besides Pickens, Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell will also deliver a keynote address to the governors on Friday. Other participants at the annual meeting including Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt.

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The entertainment provided to those attending the meeting features a special advance screening of the new Disney movie "The Lone Ranger" on Saturday, followed by a reception and dinner.

Herbert said in a statement he is pleased to welcome his fellow Western governors to Utah, calling the meeting "a wonderful opportunity to showcase our beautiful state" but that there is a lot of work to be done.

Utah's governor said he has "long believed that the states are the best hope for solving the challenges our country faces today."

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