July 1, 2008

Huntsman Calls for Climate Change Plan to Rival Kennedy Moon Challenge

JACKSON, Wyo. -- Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is challenging the Western Governors Association to put together a comprehensive energy and climate change blueprint that the group can present to the next U.S. president, in hopes of driving the nation's energy future.

Comparing it to President Kennedy's challenge in 1961 to send a man to the moon, Huntsman said the country needs a goal, and as many specifics as possible how to reach it. Western governors, he said, are uniquely situated to provide the vision.

"We have geography and numbers on our side. We are the most energy relevant region in the world when you take a slice of Western Canada right through the Western United States and who isn't going to listen to this part of the world speak out on energy issues?" Huntsman said.

The governors took the initial steps toward building a skeleton for that policy on Tuesday, in discussions focused on how to shape government policies and private sector partnerships aimed at developing diverse, climate-friendly domestic energy sources.

The governors, working with WGA staff, hope to have a bipartisan energy policy plan to present to the new president -- whoever wins the election -- early next year.

"It's very difficult to say what the heck the energy policy of the United States is," said Jeff Sterba, President and CEO of PNM Resources. "We don't have one. We don't have anything that is close to it."

Sterba said the governors should urge the new president to take the lead on greenhouse gas technology and recognize that the country has not invested enough in energy technology.

"The people who are going to drive change, particularly in the clean energy, clean water space, are going to be governors," said Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric.

He suggested setting target levels for different types of energy, adopting a national renewable portfolio standard, shaping tax incentives that encourage new technology and promote conservation, putting a price on carbon emissions and using universities to develop new ideas.

It will be up to the governors, he said, to try to "stand together to create a tapestry of an energy policy."

"What we have today is the worst of all worlds. We have nothing," Immelt said. At the same time, he said his company is plowing ahead with green energy investment, and will continue to do so, anticipating that not much of anything will change at the federal level.

Premier Gordon Campbell of British Columbia, said there is no area better situated to take the lead on such a task.

"If we don't change now, our kids don't inherit this world," Campbell said. "We're not followers, we're leaders. We should lead, we should act, and we should do it together."

Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington was skeptical that the federal government would listen, or feared the Western governors' offering would "get turned into mush" by Congress. She said it will take backing from a range of interests, including corporations, to make any change.

Huntsman, who took over as chairman of the Western Governors Association this week, said he anticipates the plan will be "as specific as the political will will allow."

Gov. Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming said Huntsman's goal is ambitious, but "we have climbed higher mountains than that and we will succeed."

Huntsman also said he hopes to begin a global dialogue, especially with China, on the topic of energy production and climate change, and to try to develop some regional or potentially national policy to address the future of water.