WASHINGTON — Gov. Gary Herbert said his testimony on Tuesday that Utah is cooperating with the federal government on energy development might not have been what his fellow Republicans wanted to hear.
"I digressed a little bit from the playbook," Herbert said of his appearance before the GOP House and Senate Western Caucus hearing on "The War on Western Jobs," noting that he even came up with a different title.
Herbert labeled his prepared testimony "The Unique Challenges of Economic Development in Public Land States," rather than suggesting a conflict with Democratic President Barack Obama's administration.
"I think it is foolish for us to fight and to rant and rave," the governor said.
The relationship he is building with the Obama administration may surprise some people, Herbert said, but it will benefit the state.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who heads the House Western Caucus, said the governor came across as "very clear and forceful in speaking out" about the issues he hopes to resolve.
"He's hopeful for the future, but it still depends on the federal government coming back and doing something they haven't done so far," Bishop said, noting the hearing included testimony from officials from other states facing similar difficulties that have contributed to the West's high unemployment rate.
Herbert said he's had "limited success" so far in his dealings with the federal government. "We're still in the 'testing-each-other-out' stage," he said, noting they're probably wondering why a conservative Republican is willing to work with them.
The test of their new relationship, he said, will come in the administration's response to Utah's efforts to streamline the process for developing energy resources on public lands.
"That's a real issue for us in the state of Utah," Herbert said, because companies will look to develop energy resources on private lands in other states if the process isn't accelerated.
It's the uncertainty surrounding energy development on public lands that's spooking companies looking to invest in Utah, the governor said, not Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar's controversial decision to pull back oil and gas parcels that had been auctioned for lease in 2008.
Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee testified via videotape at the caucus hearing that the withdrawal of the leases had cost some 3,000 jobs in the area.
In his prepared testimony, Herbert said the Bureau of Land Management review process on oil and gas permits creates "analysis paralysis" on the country's ability to address its energy needs, while also damaging Utah's economic viability.
Herbert also said in his prepared testimony that "it is high time we lay down our arms, set aside the rhetoric and embrace our common goals instead of focusing on our differences."
The governor met with Salazar in Washington, D.C., and said that, while they agree in principle, only progress on the process "will go a long ways towards proving they really do want to work with us in a collaborative fashion. It really is a common-sense thing."
A statement released by the Department of the Interior said Salazar and Herbert "discussed the importance of harnessing conventional energy resources in the right ways and in the right places."
The pair also talked about the importance of protecting Utah's natural beauty for recreational use, which contributes an estimated $5.8 billion and 65,000 jobs to the state's economy, according to the statement.
Salazar came to Utah in April to meet with the Governor's Balanced Resource Council. He praised the council's inclusion of diverse viewpoints on environmental issues as an example for the nation.
This story was reported from Salt Lake City.
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