The Western Governors' Association's new chairman, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., on Tuesday announced the ambitious goal of putting together a proposed national energy policy.
Huntsman, who assumed leadership of the association at the close of its three-day annual meeting in Jackson Hole, said the proposed policy should be completed in the next few months so it can be considered at the start of the next presidential administration in January.
"For me, this is the No.1 priority of Western governors," Huntsman told the Deseret News in a telephone interview after the announcement. "Time is essential in getting something drafted, vetted and negotiated."
He said the new president will pay attention to whatever the Western governors come up with because they represent "the most energy relevant region" in terms of resources and development.
Huntsman, who has long supported the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, said no matter which party wins the White House in November, energy will be a top priority.
"I've heard from Sen. McCain that energy policy is going to be extremely important early on," he said. "My Democratic friends are telling me (presumptive Democratic nominee Barack) Obama is saying the same thing. What we have here is the blessing of timing."
That wasn't the case the last time Huntsman led a Western Governors' Association initiative on immigration. He teamed with a Democrat, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, to put together a comprehensive plan for dealing with the 12 million people in the country illegally.
That plan, approved by the association in 2006, backed the establishment of a guest-worker program while opposing blanket amnesty. But it has languished as Congress avoided taking any comprehensive action on the controversial issue.
Still, Huntsman said his success in gaining the support of the Western governors on immigration gave him the confidence to tackle energy. "Not many people thought we'd get any kind of consensus on something as sensitive as immigration. But we did," he said.
The first step toward coming up with an energy proposal will be to name a working group, Huntsman said. While he'll likely head it, he said he plans to name at least three other Republican and Democratic governors to leadership roles.
Their focus, Huntsman said, will be shaping a policy that takes into account developing energy affordability in a time of record oil prices, ensuring energy independence from hostile suppliers and recognizing the need to control emissions.
Specifics he wants to see in the final proposed energy policy include incentives for research and development, goals to reduce the nation's carbon footprint and setting a national cap and trade policy to limit emissions.
The governor has already riled conservatives by signing on to the Western Climate Initiative pushed by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that sets goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to ease global warming.
Huntsman's former campaign manager and chief of staff, Jason Chaffetz, pulled off a big win over Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, in the GOP primary after calling global warming "a farce" at the party's state convention.
"Every state has members of their congressional delegation who feel differently about these things. That's just politics," Huntsman said. He said that trying to change Chaffetz's mind is "not on my list of things to get done."The governor compared the goal of coming up with an energy policy to President John F. Kennedy's 1961 call to put a man on the moon. Both, he said, require pulling together as a nation. "We're in need of a moon shot here, folks."
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