Stateline Story

Governors To Tackle Energy Issues

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - The nation's governors will spend the next year looking for ways states can secure safe, clean energy at a time when Congress and the White House are deadlocked over how best to cut the U.S. contribution to greenhouse-gas emissions and other energy issues.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) said the country was at a "historic crossroad" to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil, curb global warming and create cleaner domestic fuels as he began his year-long term as chairman of the National Governors Association Monday (July 23) and launched a " Securing a Clean Energy Future " initiative.

"There's an urgent need to improve our energy policy in this country, not just better alternative energy, but climate-change issues, conservation, getting better results from our traditional energy sources and applying new technologies to old sources," Pawlenty told Stateline.org .

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), the new NGA vice chairman, said energy issues are "another area where states have been leading the way in the absence of a federal policy."

Energy issues dominated many policy sessions at the July 20-23 annual meeting of the NGA, held at this resort town in northwestern Michigan.

The governors closed the conference by approving a series of policy statements, including calls on Congress to boost fuel-efficiency standards for cars, provide more federal dollars to help develop technologies to burn coal in an environmentally friendly manner and allow states to have authority to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases.

At the conference, Stephen L. Johnson, administrator of the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, told the governors EPA plans to issue a decision by year end on California's bid to cut greenhouse-gas emissions from cars. A dozen states want to adopt the same standard as California's. The state has threatened to sue if it doesn't get the green light.

Johnson told governors the EPA plans to unveil stricter auto-emission standards for new cars by the end of 2008.

Much of the formal program centered on how states can create jobs and be more competitive under the "Innovation America" initiative spearheaded by NGA Chair Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) of Arizona, whose one-year term ended July 23.

But behind closed doors, a top issue for governors was the stalemate in Washington, D.C., over the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which technically expires this fall unless Congress acts. NGA calls SCHIP reauthorization its No. 1 health care priority for the 110th Congress.

The governors implored President Bush and congressional leaders to reauthorize and provide more money for SCHIP in July 22 letters.

Other issues discussed during the governors-only July 22 luncheon included the National Guard and the federal Real ID Act, which for the first time imposes federal security requirements on state driver's licenses. Six state legislatures - Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Washington - passed bills this year refusing to comply with the 2005 law, which was criticized for imposing $14 billion in costs on states and intruding on state authority. To date, Congress has appropriated only $40 million to assist states, NGA said.

The law will require states to verify the identity of all 245 million drivers in an effort to keep licenses, which can be used as official ID cards, out of the hands of terrorists and illegal immigrants. Governors issued a statement supporting a proposal from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former governor, to help states pay for Real ID costs. Alexander's office couldn't confirm the amount in his proposed amendment to the Department of Homeland Security funding bill.

"If Congress is truly committed to transforming Real ID into a reasonable and workable law that actually increases the security of our citizens, it must commit the federal funds necessary to implement this federal mandate, " NGA said in a statement.

Governors also heard from retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who urged them to take a look at how states elect judges. "Partisan elections are the worst," she said. She also implored governors not to give up asserting states' rights in conflicts with the federal government, even though recent court decisions have sided more with the federal government, including a recent case involving a state medical marijuana law.

O'Connor said she is working on a computer-based program for 7th through 9th graders to learn more about the judicial system and urged governors to include civics lessons in their curriculums. Students "don't inherit this in the gene pool," they have to be taught, she said.

Next year NGA will go to Philadelphia for its 100th annual meeting and plans to invite all former governors to attend, including former Govs. Jimmy Carter of Georgia and Bill Clinton of Arkansas, both Democrats who used their state jobs as launching pads for the presidency. The NGA also added a centennial section to its Web site and unveiled a new logo.