Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter met in Salt Lake City Friday with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval joining in by phone. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was scheduled to take part, but canceled due to legislative issues.
The four governors, all Republican, agreed to come together to represent the Western states on a federal level, but did not settle on specific positions.
"We have the opportunity to drive the agenda on those things that are important to our states," Mead told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We want to have the Western states, Democrats and Republicans alike, to have as strong a voice in this country as possible."
The nearly 5-hour meeting took place amidst protests outside the Governor's Mansion in Salt Lake City. About 80 demonstrators gathered in opposition to HB148, a bill signed last week by Herbert, which demands Congress hand over more than 30 million acres of federal land to Utah's state government. The land would then be leased to private interests, Herbert said.
Heidi McIntosh, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, accused Herbert of ignoring environmental concerns.
"What we wanted to accomplish today was send this message that, with such an aggressive attack on Utah's wild lands, we're putting our future at risk, not only environmentally, but economically," she said.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar criticized HB148 this week, calling it a politicized stunt.
"I think it is political rhetoric you see in election year," Salazar said. "The fact is, Utah is a great example of where, through the use of public lands, we are creating thousands of jobs."
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