by Amanda Reeve
The Western Governors’ Association (“WGA”) convened for its 2017 Winter Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona on December 1-2 to discuss western policy and announce its Policy Resolutions for 2018. While discussions focused on workforce development, natural resources management, disaster preparedness, technology and transportation and infrastructure; at the heart of all these conversations was the continuing collective call for stronger state-federal relationships. Years of letters to the federal government document the WGA’s desire for increased cooperative federalism; but, as the WGA substantiates in its 2017 Annual Report, the Presidential Election and change in Administration presented the opportunity, and renewed determination, for the Western Governors to aggressively pursue this goal.
Established in 1984, the WGA represents the Governors of 19 Western states (AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, KS, MT, NE, NV, NM, ND, OK, OR, SD, TX, UT, WA, WY) and three U.S. Territories (American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam). It serves as a mechanism for the exchange of information, collaborative and bipartisan development of policies, and provides a platform for the Western Governors to collectively act on issues impacting the West. Over the years, it has become ever more apparent that there are distinct differences in how certain issues impact States and Territories that fall west of the Mississippi River, as opposed to those to the east. One particular and most obvious difference (as illustrated in the map below); and that which is at the core of WGA’s push for cooperative federalism, is the ratio of federal vs state/private land ownership.
After Donald Trump was declared the victor in the November 2016 Presidential Election, the Western Governors developed, and approved at the WGA Winter Meeting that following month, its policy resolution for Building a Stronger State-Federal Relationship. They point out that the reservation of power to the states under the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, is out of respect to “the differences between regions and peoples” and “rejects the notion that one size fits all;” and explain how we have strayed from that purpose and need to return:
…the balance of power has, over the years, shifted toward the federal government and away from the states. The growth in the size, cost and scope of the federal government attests to this new reality. Increasingly prescriptive regulations infringe on state authority, tie the hands of states and local governments, dampen innovation and impair on-the-ground problem-solving. Failures of the federal government to consult with states reflect a lesser appreciation for local knowledge, preferences and competencies.
The inauguration of a new Administration presents a historic opportunity to realign the state-federal relationship. Western Governors are excited to work in true partnership with the federal government. By operating as authentic collaborators on the development and execution of policy, the states and federal government can demonstrably improve their service to the public.
This policy resolution has been the focus of their actions throughout 2017; and, as discussed at this Winter Meeting in Phoenix, will continue to be central to their efforts in 2018. In fact, as the WGA points out in its 2017 Annual Report, the Western Governors are so aggressively pursuing the implementation of this policy that they have organized the Western Policy Network (WPN) to bring together other associations of policy leaders in the west for the purpose of coordinating efforts and collaborating on matters of mutual interest. These additional associations include the following:
- Conference of Western Attorney’s General
- Council of State Governments – West
- Pacific Northwest Economic Region
- Western Air Resources Council
- Western Interstate Energy Board
- Western Interstate Region of the National Association of Counties
- Western States Land Commissioners Association
- Western States Water Council
The WPN is just one of many undertakings by the WGA towards the rebuilding of a healthy, functional, collaborative and cooperative state-federal relationship. In fact, while attending a federalism summit in Washington, D.C. on February 27, 2018, the WGA will continue to meet with federal agencies regarding this very goal.
In the days leading up to this Winter Meeting, the WGA issued two letters to federal agencies encouraging opportunities for working together. In its letter to the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and in regard to the Presidential Executive Order 13807 pertaining to the environmental review and permitting process, the WGA reminds the CEQ that “states are necessary partners” in the enhancing and modernizing of the review process. Further, in addition to providing the CEQ with a detailed list of recommendations to improve the state-federal relationship, the WGA insist that the working group established in the CEQ’s Initial List of Actions to Enhance and Modernize the Environmental Review and Authorization Process, “include representatives from state governments.”
Not long after the November 9, 2017 Senate Confirmation of William Wehrum to serve as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) Assistant Administrator, the WGA sent a letter congratulating him and providing a detailed list summarizing the Western Governors’ priorities within OAR’s jurisdiction. More importantly, they reassured the Assistant Administrator that the “Western states are eager to work as authentic partners in the design and execution of programs and policies that affect state resources and implicate state authority.”
The WGA’s mission and message is clear…we are more effective working together than against one another.