The governors of 11 western states pronounced themselves "on the same wavelength" as Interior Secretary James G. Watt yesterday after a three-hour meeting that covered nearly all the region's complaints.
In his first news conference since taking office, Watt said the meeting had launched "a new partnership," and was "from every standpoint highly productive." But he was short on specifics, responding in a rapid-fire manner that most particular issues were under review.
Nevada Gov. Robert List didn't seem to mind. "In all candor, I can't recall a single instance in which the governors raised issues . . . that the secretary did not agree," he told the news conference. "The doors are open, and so far we are all on the same wavelength."
Watt said he had asked the governors to come up with "creative financing structures" that would give them more of a role in planning the massive water-development projects they crave for their arid states.
Block grants to the states, he said, "would be an attractive alternative" to the current annual scramble for federal money. He promised to seek an end to current policy returning unappropriated water rights to the federal government, a move List praised as important.
List said Watt has asked the governors to list all the properties in their states that might usefully be conveyed to them.
"I continue to be a Sagebrush Rebel" Watt said, reiterating his support for the western states' drive to reduce federal control over regional land-use policies. But he cautioned again that the changes he is seeking involve management and not massive land ownership changes.
He again criticized the National Environmental Policy Act requirement for environmental impact statements on new federal projects, calling the current procedure "a tremedous waste of taxpayers' dollars. It must be changed."
But the change will be managerial and not legislative he said. The same is true of changes in controls over surface mining, many of which will move to the state level without rewriting the legislation, he said.
Gov. John V. Evans of Idaho said in an interview that the meeting had resolved the "mixed signals" the governors had been getting on Interior's future land-use and water-projects policies. "He said bring your [water] projects forward. The emphasis was that there would be water development under the Reagan administration," Evans said.
Watt also promised to revive and even increase federal payments to the states in lieu of taxes on the land Washington owns there, Evans continued, and said he would "clear the tracks as much as possible" for construction of transmission lines and rights of way for power projects through federal turf.
"He's open, very decisive," Evans said.
Alaska Gov. Jay S. hammond went further. "His discussion of the diminished involvement of the feds in state affairs caused all the governors to salivate."