Idaho lawmakers have returned to Boise to complete the work they started last year and to begin the projects they will complete next year.
I think of the Idaho Legislature as a conveyor belt with issues, causes, problems, opportunities coming in one end and bills, memorials, interim committees, anger, happiness and frustration coming out the other. It can be ugly, imperfect and profound at different times.
But as former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb always reminded his colleagues, they always had next year to fix whatever mistakes they passed this year.
Last year the fight over allowing the 6 percent renewable energy tax rebate to die after five years consumed much of the time that didn’t go to education reform and Medicaid cuts. The rebate is gone and unlikely to return and a series of actions by the Public Utilities Commission along with the end of Obama stimulus funding will largely take renewables off the major agenda items this year.
But energy will still be on the belt. An interim committee will vote next week even with the Legislature back in session to approved the state Energy Plan update it wrote this summer and fall. Since it has strong utility support and doesn’t take up the controversial issues of a electric rate advocate, pushing incentives, supporting fuel efficiency standards, or backing a local option tax it should pass easily.
There also shouldn’t be a problem passing through the whole legislature, unless some external event pops up. In 2007, it was a company’s plan to build a coal plan to send power to California near Jerome that focused debate on the plan.
Who knows? The solar polysilicon manufacturer Hoku’s unpaid bill with Idaho Power could spark a debate between economic development and ratepayer costs.
Or the unsuccessful effort by eastern Idaho residents to pass a moratorium on wind power development could prompt a debate the interim committee didn’t include. The air has gone out of the sails of the wind industry in Idaho for now but this is an issue that went unresolved last year.
Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, said he plans to return with legislation this year to protect wind plant neighbors.
That will come in the context of concerns by Payette and Washington county residents about the new natural gas industry there. Approval of the rules and new laws to guide the industry has great potential to trigger economic activity and revenue for the state will likely be the major energy and environmental issue this session.
Residents worry their fears about impacts on groundwater and their own private property rights will be trampled on in the rush to bring Idaho royalties and jobs.
Last year a fight between the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, off-road vehicle owners and the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation erupted in several hearings. Since two of the state’s own agencies couldn’t agree it went to an interim committee.
The two agencies have tried to work out a compromise. But some lawmakers want to draw a clear line that says Fish and Game can’t regulate motorized hunters.
That could be a fight.
Then there are endangered species. Many lawmakers are still angry about wolves but in 2002 they passed a wolf management plan that became the basis for delisting the species, first by Obama administration and finally by Congress.
Now they face an equally controversial listing of sage grouse as early as 2015. Midvale Republican Rep. Judy Boyle, who worked with conservationists to write the 2002 wolf plan, thinks the Legislature should tackle the kind of regulations that will protect the bird enough to prevent listing but allow Idahoans to continue ranching, farming and other activities.
That was the goal of the 2002 wolf plan.
“I think we can get to the same place with sage grouse,” she said.
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