Posted: Saturday, April 28, 2012 12:46 PM
By JOSH LOFTIN
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Seeking a unified front on common concerns, the governors of four Western states held discussions Friday on issues ranging from federal land control to immigration.
"The Western states need to bind together and unite their voices," said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who hosted the talks at the governor's mansion near downtown Salt Lake City.
"We have a uniqueness that other people don't understand."
The participating governors, all Republicans, included Idaho's Butch Otter, Wyoming's Matt Mead and Nevada's Brian Sandoval, who joined the conference by phone.
The all-day gathering, which Herbert dubbed the Rocky Mountain Roundtable, focused heavily on the management of public lands by the federal government.
All of the states represented have large swaths under federal control, whether it's national forest, national parks or acreage owned by Bureau of Land Management.
The participating governors say that federal policies can impede energy development, which can be important catalysts for job creation and increased tax revenue. But they worry their concerns are downplayed or ignored in Washington.
Regional cooperation is important because it ensures that the needs of states with smaller populations are still respected, Otter said.
"We find more balance when we ask for more input," he said. "When we have rules and regulations promulgated by a federal agency without that input, there is a problem."
Herbert has said that he hopes future meetings would include Democratic governors who were invited but couldn't attend.
Mead echoed that sentiment, saying that many of the issues transcended political affiliation. He said this is especially true for energy-producing states where industry issues often collide with environmental concerns, such as clean air and water or endangered species.
One of the areas where political affiliations will play a role, however, is a burgeoning legal battle between states and the federal government over control of federal lands.
A Utah law signed by Herbert this year requires the federal government to relinquish its ownership of land in the state by 2014, despite warnings from legislative attorneys that the law was probably unconstitutional.
A similar bill passed the Arizona Legislature and next goes to Republican Gov. Jan Brewer for a signature or veto.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.