Emerging scientific research indicates that the Western U.S. will be disproportionately impacted by climate variability and change. This is due to the natural topographical and geographical diversity of the region combined with a surge in population growth. The Western Governors and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are working together to improve the development, coordination and dissemination of weather and climate information for resource management decision making in Western states. WGA and NOAA are convening regional forums to bring together leading practitioners and policy makers to address weather and climate risk.
WGA has a broad-based energy program that over the years has included the Clean and Diversified Energy Initiative, identification of Western Renewable Energy Zones, developing policies and best practices for energy efficient buildings, and deploying near-zero emission technologies for coal. In 2010, the Governors, Western Interstate Energy Board and Western Electricity Coordinating Council launched the Regional Transmission Expansion Project to analyze transmission requirements under a broad range of alternative energy futures and to develop long-term, interconnection-wide transmission expansion plans. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, this project will provide valuable information to state and federal policy/decision makers, citizens, and the private sector in determining the need and potential location for new transmission. It will also facilitate all levels of participation in the project planning and permitting processes.
Western Governors are working together to capitalize on the region's unmatched landscapes and scenery as engines for economic growth in tourism and outdoor recreation. The purpose of the initiative was to identify the economic contribution of outdoor recreation and tourism to the health of our local economies as well as our citizens. In addition to promoting outdoor recreation and tourism across the West, the initiative was designed to highlight successful strategies for managing the recreational assets that serve as the foundation of the outdoor recreation and tourism sectors.
Wildfires have always been part of the Western landscape, however, America’s wildfire environment has changed. Forests are denser and unhealthier and the climate is hotter and dryer. These factors have contributed to the increasing frequency of large fires and increasing costs. Forest fragmentation and the rapid expansion of the wildland-urban interface have also complicated the management of landscapes and wildfires. The Governors’ Forest Health Advisory Committee was formed to address a wide range of issues, including sustainable forest management, forest mortality from insects and diseases, and a need to increase the awareness of the use of woody biomass for energy production. The committee is working towards finding solutions to the devastation occurring in our Western forests.
Since the late 1980s, Western Governors have worked collaboratively with the Department of Energy to develop a comprehensive transportation safety program for shipments of radioactive materials to temporary and permanent storage sites, such as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) located near Carlsbad, New Mexico. By bringing an extraordinary level of care and attention to every detail of each shipment, Western Governors hope to ensure their primary objective of “safe and uneventful” shipments will be met. This objective is reflected in several policy resolutions Western Governors have adopted over the years to help guide states during the planning and implementation phases of the transportation safety program's development.
WGA’s Western Regional Biomass Energy Program is promoting the increased use of bioenergy and biobased products through the conversion of biomass residuals from forest health projects and commercial agriculture. Biomass is plant matter such as trees, grasses, agricultural crops, and other living plant material and residues. The Biomass Energy program focuses on policy development, outreach and technical assistance. The Western Governors’ Association is also a member of the National Bioenergy Partnership.
Through its Clean, Reliable Water Supplies program, the WGA works closely with its affiliate organization, the Western States Water Council, and all interested stakeholders in advancing water supply and water management strategies for a sustainable future. Two recent reports, Water Needs and Strategies for a Sustainable Future (2006) and Next Steps (2008) concluded that there is substantial stress on the water sector today even in the absence of climate change. There are many watersheds that are already over-appropriated, and new stresses are coming from population growth, land use changes and water needs for in-stream uses. These reports include consensus recommendations for how the Western states can work with federal, local, and private sector partners to address these challenges. Other water-related issues WGA and WSWC are jointly addressing are drought management, "Good Samaritan" cleanup of abandoned mines, Indian water rights and agricultural water transfers.
The Western Governors Wildlife Council, at the direction of the Governors, is developing policies and tools to assist states in identifying and conserving crucial wildlife habitat and corridors across the region. While individual states are compiling information within their borders, they also are working with neighboring states to improve the regional understanding of areas important to wildlife to better inform land use planning efforts. Several states have released wildlife mapping tools that will become the foundation for displaying crucial wildlife and corridor information across the region. In addition to helping states establish their individual CHATs, the Wildlife Council is creating a regional CHAT to provide an informed and continually updated picture of crucial wildlife habitat across the West.