WEEK FOUR, February 2-6, 2015
There was an emphasis on resource-related issues this week in the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, with the budget writers hearing presentations from the various agencies with oversight of everything from agriculture to water. In addition, the Resources & Environment Committee, one of the two committees on which I sit, also addressed some controversial rules that may dramatically impact private property rights.
The Department of Parks and Recreation is looking for private sponsors to help fund their programs but they will need enabling legislation which has yet to be introduced. This could lead to corporate logos on park signs, brochures, etc., but would not extend to selling naming rights to Idaho's state parks. Dept. of Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore came to JFAC with his Price Lock proposal although the legislation already died in a House committee prior to his presentation this week. The measure would allow sportsmen to lock into to today's prices for subsequent year licenses, tags and permits. While resident fees have not increased for a decade (and non-resident fees haven't increased since 2009), F&G is proposing a fee increase for 2016.
The Wolf Depredation Control Board, established by 2014
legislation I did not support, came before JFAC this week and reported spending $140,000 to kill 31 wolves.The Board was given an appropriation of $400,000 for FY15 and is asking the legislature to renew funding for FY16 but at a cost of $4,600 per wolf, and given that other agencies have previously been tasked with wolf management, I will continue to oppose funding this redundant layer of state management.
In 2014, the legislature unanimously passed legislation allowing the Department of Environmental Quality to assume the administration and enforcement of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) from the Environmental Protection Agency. The state's primacy over monitoring water pollution will be implemented in phases and is estimated to cost $2.7 million annually (from state, federal and fee-based funds) at full build-out in FY21.
This week, the Senate approved rules enabling the Dairy Environmental Control Act, which passed last year with my no vote. As a result, dairy facilities will no longer lose their operating permit for illegally discharging wastewater or sewage into waterways but could be fined up to $10,000. This is a $2.4 billion dollar industry so it raises concerns that this minimal fine is an adequate incentive to prevent polluting Idaho's natural resources. While this change impacts the penalties imposed by the Department of Agriculture, it would not preclude the DEQ, through the IPDES process once fully established, from taking additional actions against any unauthorized discharge by a dairy operation.
Oil & Gas exploration and development rules were approved this week in the Resources committees of both chambers with my dissenting vote in the Senate. I have several concerns about these rules, including the siting of gas processors (a chemical geyser of sorts) a mere 300 feet from occupied structures or water wells (and only 50 feet from highways). But the main areas of concern (which I unsuccessfully moved be struck) are sections 130-131, covering so-called "integration," which could adversely impact private property rights and mortgages.
One may own property in a development area without owning the underlying mineral rights (the Idaho Dept of Lands is a major mineral rights owner, for example). Integration authorizes the industry and the Oil & Gas Commission (the regulatory arm of IDL) to approve drilling with the consent of 55% of the mineral rights owners in a 640-acre unit, thus disenfranchising the other 45% of residents.The threshold in many other states is 70% or greater and the passage of levies and constitutional amendments requires a 2/3 super majority.
But the most troubling aspect is the impact on the deeds and mortgages of property owners within these units. Many real estate documents contain clauses prohibiting the removal of oil or gas without the prior consent of the lender. That exposes the property owners (including those opposed to drilling) to the risk of default and may negatively impact their property values. Representatives of the Idaho banking industry have confirmed the existence of these clauses and have acknowledged these concerns are growing across the country in oil and gas-producing states.
John Goedde, the former Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, appeared before JFAC yesterday regarding the Idaho Education Network. The IEN supplies online classes for Idaho's high schools (although recent reports revealed a chronic underutilization of the network) and broadband to state agencies. Senator Goedde was hired as an aide by the Otter administration which hopes to maintain the IEN after a judge voided the state's $60 million contract for being illegally awarded. Goedde testified that CenturyLink, a defendant in the suit, may cut service unless they receive a payment of $1.6 million by February 22nd. Idaho Education News is a great source for following this unfolding story and has quickly become the go-to source for education coverage.
Don't forget to drop by one of the Town Hall meetings being held this weekend across District 26 with me and Representatives Steve Miller and Donna Pence.
Fri., Feb. 6th
6pm Ketchum - City Hall
Sat., Feb. 7th
8am Bellevue - Oak Street Deli
10:30am Shoshone - Community Ctr
Noon Gooding - Planning & Zoning Office
2pm Wendell - City Office
4pm Hagerman -City Office
Even if you can't make it, feel free to contact me by phone (208-332-1353) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).