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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert was elected as chairman of the Western Governors' Association on Tuesday and immediately launched an initiative for his year as chief to seek responsible energy development in the West.

"This initiative recognizes the critical role the West will play in achieving energy independence," Herbert said at a meeting of the group in Washington state. "We can develop our wealth of energy sources — from traditional to renewable — in responsible ways that will stimulate the economy and promote security, while protecting our natural treasures."

He said pillars of his initiative will include achieving a realistic understanding of challenges and opportunities; improving energy efficiency and use of alternative fuels; improving transmission of electricity and natural gas; and creating a greater role for states in energy policy.

"We need an all-of-the-above approach, making appropriate use of all energy sources," Herbert said. "Coal reserves in the West are enormous, with Western states providing more than half of the nation's coal. The potential for wind and solar in the West is practically unlimited. Additionally, both geothermal and biomass resources contribute to the region's energy portfolio and continue to grow in importance."

Herbert vowed to work with businesses, tribes, universities, national labs, nonprofit groups and federal and state agencies to plan energy development in the West.

Herbert added that, while energy will be his primary focus, the governors' group will also pursue ongoing efforts on other issues important to Western states, including health care, Medicaid reform, education, pension reform and economic development.

Lee Davidson