One point of disagreement among Western governors, Yachnin noted, is their stance toward this trend: whether they try to slow it down, or prod it along. Part of the differences here reflect the partisan divide, but the presence of a coal mining industry in states like Utah and Wyoming is also a factor. Wrote Yachnin:

Those differences do still exist, as demonstrated by Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) in an exchange during a panel discussion on energy policy. While Mead pressed fellow panelist and Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman to explain how the Obama administration will approach coal under its new climate plan—Mead expressed disappointment that he heard only a brief, and in his view, negative mention of coal in the president’s policy speech last week—Sandoval bragged that his state is shifting away from coal-based electricity.

“I just signed a bill that retires all our coal-fired plants by 2025,’ Sandoval said, prompting laughter from the audience.

What about water?

In a recent interview with CJR, The Arizona Republic’s Shaun McKinnon said any energy plan that involves oil and gas extraction and building power plants also involves large amounts of water, as does nuclear power. My recent post about hydraulic fracturing also raised issues about how oil and gas extraction methods impact water.

Water could be a crucial factor to the success of ambitious energy plans, particularly as the leaders of Western states worry about long-term drought conditions. Coverage of any energy-plan, whether at the state level or region-wide, should be accompanied by the question, What’s the impact on water?

Back to the Beltway

There’s an interesting wrinkle to the partisan mix. Most Western governors are Republicans, but the incoming president of the WGA, Colorado’s John Hickenlooper, is a Democrat—and, increasingly, a confidant to President Obama.

A geologist before he became a Denver brew-pub entrepreneur, Hickenlooper has supported expanded oil and gas development in Colorado. And as Colorado opens a part-time office in the nation’s capitol, he has said be plans to spend more time in DC lobbying for the state and the region

Hickenlooper’s connections with the Obama administration may help the Western governors push their energy vision ahead—if, that is, they can maintain agreement on what that vision is.

Follow @USProjectCJR for more posts from this author and the rest of the United States Project team.


Joel Campbell is CJR's correspondent for Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. An associate journalism professor at Brigham Young University, he is the past Freedom of Information chairman for the Society of Professional Journalists and was awarded the Honorary Publisher Award by the Utah Press Association for his advocacy work on behalf of journalists in the Utah Legislature. Follow him on Twitter @joelcampbell.