Legislators Question Huntsman's Energy Director Appointment

Legislators Question Huntsman's Energy Director Appointment

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- After the Legislature eliminated the Utah Energy Office, Gov. Jon Huntsman created the position of state energy director and appointed Laura Nelson to the post.

Now legislators are questioning the authority and funding of the position.

Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas, said Wednesday that he does not know whether Nelson is an adviser to the governor or works for the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

Ure said that if Nelson is an adviser to the governor, as the governor's energy policy coordinator contends, then her salary should come out of the governor's administrative budget. However, if Nelson works for the economic development department, then the Legislature has control of her budget.

"There isn't any statutory authority to back her up that she has authority to do something," Ure said. "We don't know where she is. She says that she reports directly to the governor, but if she is in the economic development department, then Chris Roybal (senior economic adviser to Huntsman) is her boss. So which is it? Let's clarify it so she doesn't have to walk a tight line."

Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful and co-chairwoman of the Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee, agreed with Ure that Nelson's authority is not defined.

"In my opinion that needs to be clarified in the 2006 session at the latest," Allen said. "Certainly with Utah's energy sector growth she's got to have some jurisdiction and input over that. There's no statutory authority, and we really must define that."

Kevin Knight, Huntsman's energy policy coordinator, said Nelson's office is at the economic development department, but she reports directly to the governor.

"We don't see codification as necessary for us to fulfill our function at all, because Laura is just like any other adviser to the governor," Knight said. "The governor felt that energy policy was so key to economic development that he wanted his person on energy policy to be on his staff."

Darin Underwood, a performance audit manager for the state, said that as part of an audit of the office of economic development, he will examine how Nelson's office is funded.

"I haven't been able to see where in the statute (Nelson's position) was created," Underwood said. "The Legislature did appropriate funding for her salary from general funds."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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