Things are happening at the legislature, but even as we kick off week #4, there’s still a lot of uncertainty in the air.
It’s like an awkward high school dance, with most legislators standing with their backs up on the wall, reluctant to enter the dance floor. As I reported last week, Senators Scott Herndon (R-Sagle) and Dan Foreman (R-Moscow) are dancing up a storm, introducing hot-button bills on gay marriage, transgender bathrooms, armed parades, abortion, and immigration.
Others aren’t even showing up to the dance. Many committees, including House Environment, Energy & Technology and House Resources & Conservation, are canceling meetings left and right. So far, House Resources has only met twice, and word is that House Environment Chairman Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens) may be planning to keep his committee on ice for most of the session. Maybe climate change will melt that ice? (see story below) What’s more, many House committees aren’t even taking up Administrative Rules, presumably so they can attempt to hold them hostage as leverage to advance controversial bills at the end of the session.
House Resources Chairman Ron Mendive (R-Coeur d’Alene) did answer some questions during a forum last week hosted by the Idaho Sporting and Wildlife Partnership, a new coalition of hunting and angling groups. At that meeting he shared the observation that he is the only member of the resources committee from north of Riggins. On the Senate side, there’s only one member, Rep. Doug Okuniewicz (R-Hayden). With so many amazing resources (rivers, forests, lakes, wildlife, fisheries, and more) in North Idaho, it’s notable that only two members hail from that region.
Ever since our founding, ICL has always had strong representation from North Idaho. Several of our founders – Ken Cameron, a Sandpoint dentist, and former Idaho State Senator Mary Lou Reed (D-Coeur d’Alene) and her husband Scott – emphasized the importance of remembering North Idaho. We maintain an office in Sandpoint, and historically have had offices in Coeur d’Alene, Lewiston, and Moscow.
ICL’s Executive Director, Justin Hayes, keeps a plaque in his office that’s been passed down from his predecessors, bestowed upon ICL by Mary Lou Reed, with three simple words….words that the Idaho Legislature would do well to consider: Remember North Idaho!
Now, on with the rest of the dance!
UI Economist: 2022 a monster year for Idaho ag, driven by dairy
Dr. Garth Taylor, a longtime economist with the University of Idaho, delivered the annual financial report on Idaho agriculture to the Senate and House Agriculture Committees last week. He reported that Idaho agriculture didn’t just have a banner year in 2022, they had a monster year with record increases in cash receipts (up 28%), net farm income (farmers’ bottom lines up 56%), and other eye-popping numbers. Idaho ag is dominated by the dairy industry with $4.2 billion in revenues (up 38% over 2021), and when you include beef cattle and silage/feed, the livestock industry takes in 80 cents of every ag dollar generated in the state.
The growth associated with dairies in Idaho has also come with costs that weren’t covered by Dr. Taylor. The UI report notes that there are 652,000 dairy cows in Idaho, with 80% concentrated in the Magic Valley. When you include the replacement heifers and calves, in 2022 Idaho crested the 1,000,000 dairy cow mark. And it’s an increasingly consolidated industry, with 20 dairy farms producing half of the milk in Idaho.
Each of those cows also produces 120 lbs of waste per day, which works out to the equivalent of more than 3.5 x New York City’s waste. In NYC, that waste flows through dozens of treatment plants. At Idaho dairies, it’s pumped into lagoons and spread on fields, perched above a critical aquifer overlain with thin volcanic soils. Is it any wonder we’re seeing declining water quality in the Snake River?
Ignoring the elephant
I participated in a meeting with Governor Little, along with state, federal, and private forestry stakeholders this week to discuss the urgent needs to safeguard Idaho’s communities from the threat of wildfire. On the table was a handout from the Natural Resource Conservation Service with a startling graphic (see below).
Idaho’s temperature has risen nearly 2 degrees since 1900, with effects that pale in comparison to what we could see by 2100, when the average temperatures could skyrocket 15°F over historic averages.
But, we didn’t talk about the “C” word…climate change.
As we make clear in a separate blog on the topic, the Idaho Legislature has a long history of refusing to confront climate change in Idaho. They’re still reading from the oil industry’s 1985 talking points. Instead, we’ve battled proxy wars over how climate change should be referenced in school textbooks, whether to require energy efficient building codes, and state agencies have sanitized their reports on water, resource, energy, and other plans to ensure it doesn’t utter the words: “climate change,” despite the fact that many of those plans are responding to drought, wildfire, and resource issues that are a direct result of a warming climate. And now, we’re prepping for an incoming assault on ESG (socially responsible) investing.
Idaho’s power producers and the Idaho National Laboratory also presented last week, discussing how they are expanding renewable power, exiting coal-fired power, and leading efforts to promote carbon-free power. They too didn’t mention the “C” word, they know it doesn’t help their cause, but it’s clearly driving many of their decisions.
Someday, perhaps the Idaho Legislature will recognize the world around them is adapting to the reality of climate change. The only question is will they take action, and if and when they do, will it be too little, too late?
Blocking citizen testimony – Part 2
Last week I reported that House Judiciary Chairman Bruce Skaug (R-Nampa) would discriminate against anyone under the age of 18, refusing them the opportunity to provide testimony. This week, House Local Government Chairwoman Barbara Ehardt (R-Idaho Falls) announced her committee would follow suit. But then later in the week, I noticed the agendas no longer carried this age restriction. On Friday, in response to significant blowback from minors and adults alike, Rep. Skaug announced he was changing course, and would allow testimony with parental permission. It’s still an unnecessary solution in search of an imaginary problem, as 32 students from across the state point out in the letter they issued.
In other news…and what’s on deck?
While it’s been quiet on most environmental and resource issues, there were some real dustups during education week. Sen. Herndon (R-Sagle), made a run at BSU President Dr. Marlene Tromp and UI President Scott Green over their funding for diversity programs in both the Joint Finance and Appropriations and the Senate Education Committee. A day later Senator Brian Lenney (R-Nampa) tried to shift bills around during a Senate Ed hearing, causing confusion and ruffling feathers. Over in Senate State Affairs Sen. Doug Okuniewicz (R-Hayden) is making another run at citizen initiatives, by again trying to stifle the people’s rights, even after the Supreme Court threw it out previously. Go figure.
This week, JFAC will be considering several resource-related budgets from the Idaho Departments of Fish & Game, Agriculture, Parks & Recreation, and the Idaho Wolf Control Board (always discouraging to see how much we are spending to contract with federal aerial sharpshooters). Senator Brian Lenney (R-Nampa) is also up on Monday afternoon in the Senate Education Committee with a proposal to eliminate the Blaine Amendment in the Idaho Constitution, which would allow public dollars to flow to religious schools.
Join me on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 12:30 pm (MST) for a Legislative Lunch and Learn, and have (at least some of) your questions about the Idaho Legislature answered!
Tie of the Week: Partners!
Ever since ICL got off the ground in 1973, we’ve worked in coalitions with partners. We worked with the River of No Return Council to establish the Central Idaho Wilderness (now known as the Frank Church – River of No Return), we worked with ranchers and conservation county commissioners to designate the Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness, and we’ve worked with local partners across the state to accomplish a laundry list of achievements! In the statehouse, we work closely with Conservation Voters for Idaho, Idaho Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, and the Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts, to name a few. And around the state, we partner with counties, state and federal agencies, local advocates, other conservationists, industry groups, and more.
This week’s tie recognizes those partners and allies, from 1973 to today. We can’t do it alone. Thank you!
Until next week…Esto Perpetua,