Governors to Converge on Whitefish to Talk Water, Wildlife and Energy

By Beacon Staff

Governors from throughout the Western United States will converge in Whitefish next week for the Western Governors’ Association annual meeting, where natural resource and conservation issues will top the agenda.

“It will be energy, water and wildlife: That’s the values we share as Western governors,” Gov. Brian Schweitzer, WGA chairman, said. “It’s a continuation of the meetings that we’ve had, at least for the last six years.”

Legendary basketball coach and part-time Montana resident Phil Jackson, coming off the NBA championship, will also be on hand to give a keynote address Sunday, June 27, afternoon on how growing up in the West shaped his career and outlook on life.

The chief executives of 10 Western states are expected to attend the conference, which runs from June 27-29, including Wyoming’s Dave Freudenthal, New Mexico’s Bill Richardson, Colorado’s Bill Ritter and Idaho’s C.L. “Butch” Otter, the WGA’s vice chairman. Though earlier attendee lists included California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, he is no longer planning to make the trip.

Gov. Benigno Fitial of the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth in political union with the U.S., and Gov. Felix Camacho of Guam, a U.S. territory, are also scheduled to attend. Special guests for the conference include Liang Shengli, lt. governor of China’s Guangxi Province, which is Montana’s sister province, and U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk.

Like Glacier National Park’s ongoing centennial celebration this year, the Western Governors’ Association met for the first time in 1910 to discuss natural resources, so the upcoming conference’s working title is, “100 Years of Common Ground.” All the meetings are scheduled to take place at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center at Central School.

Topping the agenda Sunday afternoon will be an overview of the Interior Department’s current policy priorities in the West, followed by a discussion of the opportunities and challenges facing successful water management over the next 50 years. On hand for the water discussion will be Robert Glennon, author of a book titled, “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to Do About It.” Susan Cottingham of the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission and former Gov. Mike Hayden, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks are also scheduled to participate.

Monday morning, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Jon Wellinghoff will give his views on the future of energy transmission in the West. Following that, the governors will discuss energy technology in the West, and investment decisions based on new technology and government incentives. That discussion will also feature a panel of energy and investment experts in the public and private sectors.

Following that discussion, Shengli and Kirk will give a brief on trade, then the governors will elect a new chairman and vice chairman.

In the afternoon, governors, Canadian premiers and guests will discuss cooperative agreements between states and provinces aimed at conserving landscapes that span borders. Invited experts include Sally Jewell, CEO and president of REI, Professor J. Michael Scott of the University of Idaho and U.S. Geological Survey, Glacier Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright and Waterton Lakes National Park Superintendent Dave McDonough.

Not all the scheduled events will be policy heavy, however. Governors and guests will also have the opportunity to take a sunset train ride from Whitefish to West Glacier on Sunday evening, and several documentaries on the wildlife and ecology of the region will be shown as well. For more information on the conference, visit http://www.westgov.org/.