Executive Director’s Notebook: WGA’s 2016 Top Ten Hit Parade

By Jim Ogsbury

As we prepare to step into a new year and work with a new administration, it's a good time to reflect on what was a dynamic and successful 2016 for Western Governors. Although it’s impossible to fully capture the breadth and scope of their accomplishments this year in a brief post, I am proud to share some illustrative highlights in the following (third annual) "Top Ten Hit Parade" list.

1.  Policy Leadership: In 2016, WGA bolstered its claim as the single most effective group of bipartisan elected officials committed to developing and executing commonsense public policy for the region and the nation. The depth and breadth of the Governors’ policy work is astounding. Over the course of the year, the Governors adopted 14 substantive and detailed policy resolutions regarding: federal-state land exchanges, invasive species, wildland fire management and resilient landscapes, abandoned mine cleanup, species conservation and the Endangered Species Act, energy and transmission, national parks, regulation of coal combustion residuals, financial assurance regulation, storage and disposal of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, water quality in the West, tax-exempt federal lands and Secure Rural Schools, royalties and leasing revenues from federal lands, and building a stronger state-federal relationship.

2. 2016 Winter Meeting: In December, California Governor Edmund G. (“Jerry”) Brown welcomed eight of his fellow governors and hundreds of attendees to the WGA Winter Meeting, hosted by WGA Chairman Steve Bullock of Montana and held at the historic Hotel del Coronado in beautiful San Diego. Among other things, the Governors discussed rural delivery of health care services and the upcoming presidential transition. They were joined by Canada’s Ambassador to the United States, the Honorable David MacNaughton, for a discussion of transboundary issues, and they shared inspirational stories during a panel entitled, “My Brilliant Failure.” Governors Brown and Bullock were joined by WGA Vice Chair Dennis Daugaard (South Dakota), and Governors Matt Mead (Wyoming), John Hickenlooper (Colorado), Gary Herbert (Utah), C.L. “Butch” Otter (Idaho), Susana Martinez (New Mexico), and Ralph Torres (Commonwealth of the Marianas Islands). This was the largest contingent of Governors at a WGA Winter Meeting since 2004. 

3. Policy Victories: Turning ideas into action, the work of Western Governors resulted in, and contributed to, the adoption of several policy priorities. Congress, for example, passed legislation establishing states as the primary regulatory authority for coal ash, consistent with WGA Policy Resolution 2017-07, Regulation of Coal Combustion Residuals. At the Governors’ urging, Congress also passed the National Forest Systems Trails Stewardship Act. The Environmental Protection Agency responded positively to the appeal of Governors when the agency concluded that no additional regulations are required under the Clean Water Act to address storm water discharges from forest roads. The U.S. Forest Service published a final rule on Stewardship End Result Contracting that is consistent with the Governors’ land management imperatives and policy pronouncements. 

4. National Forest and Rangeland Management: Upon assuming the chairmanship of WGA last summer, Montana Governor Bullock announced the creation of the Western Governors’ Forest and Rangeland Management Initiative, designed to effect improvements in public lands management regimes. Subsequent to this announcement, Initiative workshops were hosted by Governor Bullock in Missoula, by Idaho Governor Otter in Boise, and by South Dakota Governor Daugaard in Deadwood. Workshops will continue in 2017 with a session hosted by Oregon Governor Kate Brown on January 23-24 in Bend. The effort is expected to inform future gubernatorial policy and yield recommendations for the next iteration of the federal Farm Bill. 

5. Species Conservation and the Endangered Species Act: The first year of the Western Governors’ Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative, a signature project of WGA immediate past Chairman Mead of Wyoming, resulted in the adoption of WGA Policy Resolution 2016-08, which details the Governors’ policy priorities with respect to species conservation and management. During the year, initiative workshops were hosted by Idaho Governor Otter in Boise, Colorado Governor Hickenlooper in Colorado, and Hawaii Governor David Ige in Honolulu. The second year of the Initiative is proceeding with a series of intimate work sessions, at which a diverse group of stakeholders is exploring issues in species conservation and the ESA at an ever greater level of detail. 

6. 2016 Annual Meeting: Our immediate past Chairman, Wyoming Governor Mead, presented one of the most sensational WGA meetings in memory when he hosted nine of his fellow Governors for the 2016 Annual Meeting at spectacular Jackson Hole. Joining Governor Mead were current WGA Chairman Bullock of Montana, Vice Chair Daugaard of South Dakota, and Governors Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Hickenlooper of Colorado, Herbert of Utah, Otter of Idaho, Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota and Doug Ducey of Arizona. Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri also participated and delivered a keynote address on state conservation efforts. The Governors discussed western policy priorities with the Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell and the Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. They also participated in panel discussions regarding national parks, biosecurity, innovation in the West and new economic frontiers. 

7. Celebrate the West: In 2016, WGA launched its annual “Celebrate the West” high school art competition. The competition challenges budding artists to create original works inspired by their states or otherwise evocative of the West. The highly successful inaugural contest attracted hundreds of entries from 19 states and 2 territories. The grand prize winner, announced at the WGA summer meeting in Jackson Hole, was Shayla Bowen of Clear Springs High School in League City, Texas. 

8. New Policy Initiatives: During the past year, WGA commenced design of the Western Governors’ Workforce Development Initiative, a project of WGA Vice Chair Daugaard of South Dakota. Parties interested in this issue are encouraged to contact WGA with their ideas and recommendations. Also, in order to implement the policies embedded in WGA Policy Resolution 2016-05, Combating Invasive Species, the Association launched an invasive species inventory and data management protocol initiative. 

9. State Engagement and Outreach: When I wasn’t testifying before Congress or taking orders from my staff in Denver, it was my privilege to visit Governors and their western constituencies throughout the past year. Of particular note was my visit to Guam, where my participation in the Festival of the Pacific was hosted by the island’s Governor, the Honorable Eddie Calvo. This represented the first trip by an executive director of WGA to any of the Association’s member islands. I also was honored to bring the regional perspective of Western Governors to Idaho Governor Otter’s annual trail ride, which took place this year in Idaho’s extraordinary Copper Basin.

10. State Authority: Western Governors asserted tremendous leadership in advocating for a realignment of the state-federal relationship. Pursuant to adoption of Policy Resolution 2017-01, Building a Stronger State-Federal Relationship, WGA designed a multi-pronged campaign to pursue a more effective state-federal relationship in the context of the upcoming presidential transition. As part of this effort, WGA organized a number of western policy organizations to develop and adopt Principles to Clarify and Strengthen the State-Federal Relationship. Joining WGA in this effort were the Conference of Western Attorneys General, Council of State Governments – West, Western Interstate Region of the National Association of Counties and the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region.  

Jim Ogsbury is the Executive Director of the Western Governors' Association. Contact him at 303-623-9378. Get the latest news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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