During his first trip to Washington, D.C., since taking office, Utah's GOP Gov. Gary Herbert said he reached out to the Democratic administration on a key public-lands issue.
The governor said he pitched Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes about awarding at least some of the oil and gas leases in Utah won in an auction tainted by the actions of an environmental activist. Herbert told the Deseret News on Tuesday that Hayes invited both the state and the private companies involved to offer legal arguments for not rebidding 17 of the 77 parcels involved.
"They won them fair and square, they ought to be given the leases rights now," the governor said. "Let's find a process we can all agree is fair and gives us confidence the system is not being gamed."
In February, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar started a review of the parcels offered late last year for oil and gas leasing by the Bureau of Land Management. In October, he said 17 parcels were "good to go." But it is not clear what happens next
Herbert said he's concerned about the long-term impact of how the leases are being handled. Hayes, he said, "is willing to address this with an open mind."
During his meeting with Salazar, Herbert said he stressed he wants to move beyond past conflicts with the federal government over public-lands issues.
"I wanted him to know I'm prepared and Utah's prepared to be a partner in the efforts to manage our resources," the governor said. "I wanted him to know that I, as a Republican, am willing to reach out to this Democratic administration."
Herbert said he let Salazar know he's "putting my money where my rhetoric is" by hiring former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, a Democrat and environmentalist, as an adviser.
"It seemed to be well-received," Herbert said, noting Salazar now plans to meet with the governor's new Balanced Resources Council. Wilson oversees the council, which is made up of advocates on both sides of debate involving public lands and other environmental issues.
The governor, who is scheduled to return from Washington today, also met with members of Utah's congressional delegation as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
President Barack Obama's push for health care dominated those discussions. Herbert said he emphasized the concerns of many governors that new legislation could mean unfunded mandates for the states.
The governor said a Senate proposal that would allow states to opt out of the national health-care plan did not come up in his discussion with Reid. Herbert said he won't take a position on what Utah should do until it's clear what the state would give up by declining to participate in a national plan.
Also on Herbert's agenda during his two-day stay were visits to the National Governors Association, the Pew Center on the States, the Heritage Foundation and the White House, where he met with Valerie Jarrett, Obama's senior adviser.
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