Governors Spencer Cox of Utah (left) and Jared Polis of Colorado address reporters outside the White House following a visit by more than 40 members of the National Governors Association on Feb. 23. The governors discussed policy issues with Biden administration officials, but deep division still remain (Image courtesy of the NGA via Facebook).

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Gov. Spencer Cox and the chief executives of more than 40 states and territories “made nice” during a visit to the White House on Feb. 23.

But deep divisions remain between the Biden administration and the members of the National Governor’s Association – and not just with those of the Republican persuasion.

The White House gathering was just one of the events of the winter meeting of the NGA here, where Republican and Democratic governors met to discuss bipartisan solutions to issues of housing affordability, artificial intelligence risks, workforce development, disaster response and other priorities.

At the White House, the governors met with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, cabinet members and senior advisors.

While sticking to glittering generalities, the governors were mostly unanimous in their message to Biden that Congress and the administration “ … must work together to address national challenges.”

“The governors agree that overcoming our nation’s challenges requires working together – across party lines and across state lines,” Cox explained after the White House meeting.

“We can’t let political divisions get in the way of good policy.”

The elephant in the room, of course, was the issue of border security – although none of the governors probably cared to introduce that hot topic.

“You deal with this every day,” Biden told the governors after bringing up the subject of the flood of illegal immigrants over the southern border. “Some of you deal with it every single day. You have real skin in the game.”

In his remarks, Biden urged the governors to ramp up the pressure on congressional lawmakers to pass what he described as the “strongest border deal the country has ever seen.”

But Biden’s comments seemed to fall on deaf ears, including those of Democratic governors Andy Beshear of Kentucky and Roy Cooper of North Carolina. Both of those officials echoed the NGA position that the president can close the southern border at will and doesn’t need additional congressional action.

In the state of Texas, the impasse over who’s in charge along the Rio Grande border with Mexico has settled into a protracted stalemate.

On Jan. 10, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the state’s National Guard to deny members of the U.S. Border Patrol access to several miles of the border near the town of Eagle Pass.

Those military personnel then began erecting barriers – including metal shipping containers, fencing and razor wire – to block the illegals from accessing Shelby Park, an adjacent golf course and an area under a port of entry bridge that federal agents were using to process the aliens.

Despite a Supreme Court ruling favoring the Biden administration, the stand-off is unresolved.

Adding insult to injury, Cox and 13 Republican governors toured Eagle Pass in early February and Cox later sent Utah National Guard and law enforcement personnel to support the Texans defense of the border.

Cox and other Utah officials have also crossed swords with the Biden administration over the Environmental Protection Agency’s “good neighbor” policy, which aims to cut down on cross-state smog pollution from power plants and other industrial sources.

That plan would require 23 states – including Utah – to take steps to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide that form ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog, that make it difficult for downwind states to meet standards set for ozone by the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Act.

Cox and a coalition of Utah’s state and federal elected officials threw down the gauntlet last year, vowing to oppose the new EPA regulations in both Congress and the courts.

Another point of friction between Utah and Washington concerns the recently reinstated Bear Ears National Monument.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland dated Feb. 5, Gov. Spencer Cox officially terminated a memorandum of understanding with the Department of the Interior that outlined a land exchange within the 1.2 million acre Bear Ears Monument for federal property elsewhere in the state.

The roots of this dispute with the federal government go all the way back to 2016, when former President Barak Obama set aside the Bear Ears National Monument on land considered to be sacred to Native American tribes, including the Navajo, Hopi, Ute and Pueblo tribes.

In 2017, former President Donald Trump responded to complaints from Utah officials by downsizing the Bears Ears monument by 85 percent.

Less than a year after taking office, however, President Joe Biden restored the Utah monument to its original size in 2021 at the urging of Haaland, who is a member of the Pueblo tribe.

That action left at issue approximately 130,000 acres of scattered school and institutional trust lands — that had previously been managed for Utah public school children — locked within the boundaries of the Bear Ears monument.

In an attempt to resolve this issue, Utah officials proposed to exchange that trust land and its mineral rights (including property in Iron, Kane, San Juan, Tooele and Uintah counties) for U.S. land in Beaver, Carbon, Duchesne, Emery, Garfield, Grand, Iron, Kane, Millard, Rich, San Juan, Sanpete, Sevier, Tooele, Utah, Wasatch, Washington and Wayne counties.

Despite nearly a year having passed since its submission, however, Cox noted that memorandum of understanding has never been ratified by Congress.

“When the (Biden) administration is prepared to have a serious and good-faith collaborative discussion about land management,” Cox added, “we stand ready to renew discussions of a land exchange.”

Despite those issues, Cox emphasized on Feb. 23 that the nation’s governors would welcome the opportunity to work with the White House and Congress to resolve challenges like border security, economic stability and others.

Other events on the schedule of the NGA winter gathering included a session with Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Amy Coney Barrett for a discussion of Cox’s “Disagree Better” initiative and a Feb. 24 meeting with national experts to discuss artificial intelligence, rural revitalization, workforce development and other topics.

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