This week, the Idaho Legislature’s budget committee heard from Idaho Department of Environmental Quality Director Jess Byrne, who’s proposing to spend $300 million over five years to upgrade Idaho’s drinking and sewer systems. The funding would come from the state’s discretionary American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Those federal funds would also provide $7 million over five years for cleanup of the abandoned Triumph Mine along the East Fork of the Big Wood River and millions to address water quality concerns in Lake Coeur d’Alene. Investing in failing drinking and wastewater systems protects public health and the environment. It will also help limit property tax increases by reducing the need for local bonds and levies to pay for these costly upgrades. Along with funding from the Infrastructure Bill, these efforts will pay clean water dividends for decades to come.

Back in Washington, DC, Senators Jim Risch (R-ID) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced a bill that facilitates cleanup of other defunct mines across the West. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) joined five other western senators in co-sponsoring the bill. We’re encouraged by these opportunities, which will provide a real shot in the arm for all who like clean water!

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses though…the Senate Transportation Committee introduced a bill that would remove emissions testing requirements in the Treasure Valley. As the population swells, ICL is concerned that the bill will contribute to ongoing concerns over air quality in the region.

We’re also expecting a hearing next week on the K-12 Science Standards, along with other public land and wildlife bills waiting in the wings. 

Science Standards on deck

Idaho’s K-12 Science Education Standards and other education rules have been the subject of many meetings this session, none of which have allowed public testimony so far. Next week, we expect the House Education Committee to finally hear from teachers, administrators and the public on the importance of science education. 

In the first week of the session, House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow (R-Twin Falls) targeted these standards with a resolution to reject them (HCR 27) and a bill to replace them (HB437). These proposals would circumvent the regular rules process and force the State Board of Education to adopt his preferred version of the Science, Math and English standards. Instead, ICL and others feel the standards should follow the regular process, consider the impacts of the proposed changes, and solicit public input on the proposals. Once the House Education Committee schedules a hearing, you will be able to testify remotely, in person or you can submit written comments. Here are some talking points and public testimony guidelines.

You can also support Science Standards by emailing the House Education Committee through our online action tool.

Sign up to be notified when a hearing is finally scheduled.

Bill seeks to eliminate emissions testing

Senator Lori Den Hartog (R-Meridian) introduced Senate Bill 1254 in the Senate Transportation Committee this week, which would cut emissions testing next year in Ada and Canyon Counties, where it’s currently required. She was joined by 9 colleagues in the Senate and 18 co-sponsors from the House, as well as the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. While there may be some valid reasons to consider changes, we’re concerned it’s premature to remove these requirements before identifying meaningful ways to address air quality concerns in the face of unprecedented growth.

State Land bills raise concerns

Last week, Sen. Mark Harris (R-Soda Springs) introduced two bills in the Senate Resources and Environment Committee that would limit the Land Board’s ability to exchange State Endowment Lands with the federal government

If passed, Senate Bill 1251 would allow a single permittee (i.e. a rancher) to put the brakes on a land exchange, even if it was in the public interest and supported by the Department of Lands and the Idaho Land Board. This bill appears to be seeking retribution for a recently finalized exchange in Owyhee County that was broadly supported by ICL and others.

The second bill, SB 1252, would attempt to redefine federal grazing permits as “property rights,” requiring the state to compensate ranchers for any diminishment of their grazing allotments if the lands are transferred from federal to state control. 

The bills appear to conflict with the Idaho Constitution and have raised concerns from ICL, fellow public land advocates, and others.

Tie of the week!

From the inversions that plague our valleys in the winter and trap pollutants below a blanket of fog, to the smoke season formerly known as summer, concerns over Idaho’s air quality are mounting. Add in the fact that Idaho is the fastest growing state, with much of that growth occurring in the Treasure Valley, coupled with a lack of public transit, and we’ve got a recipe for deteriorating air quality.

This week’s Tie of the Week recognizes the need to work together to solve these problems. If the legislature eliminates emissions testing requirements in the Treasure Valley, we must find other ways to keep our air clean. From embracing Electric Vehicles to controlling industrial and agricultural emissions, many solutions are within reach, if only we work for them. If we’re successful, we can all breathe a little easier…

Until next week…Esto Perpetua,