Western governors challenge RRTT: “Where’s the beef?”

Governors at the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) annual meeting in Cle Elum, Wash., June 11 gave a clear message to the Obama administration’s representative for the rapid response team for transmission (RRTT): We’ve had enough collaboration; we want action.

Following a presentation detailing what the RRTT’s representative termed the Obama administration’s “sustained, all-out, all-of-the-above energy approach,” the governor of Montana issued a strongly worded “Where’s the beef?” challenge.

“Five, six years, same damned thing from the federal government. ‘We really want to work with you on transmission. We’re going to put a team together, we’re going to have a collaborative effort’,” Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) said. “How many times have we been hearing about that?”

“We’re still talking about it and we’re collaborating but, honest to God, from the time we were attacked at Pearl Harbor until we built the world’s largest military-industrial complex and split the atom was only four years,” he continued.

Schweitzer said he’s listened to conversation and collaboration during the seven and a half years he’s been in office. Despite all the talk, he said, only150 miles of transmission have actually been built.

“Unless we take fundamental changes and do it now, we’re going to continue to fall behind the rest of the world when it comes to developing new technologies for a new electricity grid,” Schweitzer concluded. (Listen to Schweitzer’s full remarks.)

Schweitzer, who had earlier been pilloried by outgoing WGA chair Gov. Chris Gregoire (D-Wash.) as the organization’s gadfly, drew snickers from the crowd when he introduced his remarks by saying, “I think I speak for everybody in the room,” but was given a round of applause when he concluded.

The incoming WGA chair, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) Utah, agreed. “We’re tired of all the collaboration and communication; we want to get something done. The proof will be in the pudding.”

The administration’s RRTT representative concurred with the governors’ assessments.

“I think you’re right,” Neal Kemkar, deputy associate director for energy for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said after hearing the governors’ criticisms.  “We haven’t [built significant transmission] in over a generation … and it’s incumbent upon all of us to work together to get it done.”

Herbert promised that the WGA would continue collaboration under his administration, but restated his desire to see tangible results.

“We will do our part … to work with the administration to make sure we, in fact, get something done when it comes to transmission,” Herbert said.