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Posts published in May 2017

Water Digest – May 8

Water rights weekly report for May 1. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

The National Park Service is putting its water shortage action plan into effect, following the state’s call to cease withdrawing water from Annie Creek. Crater Lake National Park staff are asking all visitors and employees to use water wisely during the water supply shortage.

The San Luis Obispo Coastkeepers and Los Padres ForestWatch, two central-coastal California environmental groups, on May 5 sued the Santa Maria Water Conservation District to demand a different schedule on water be released to help with preservaton of the Southern California steelhead trout.

A First Nations geographer, a legal historian and a global expert on water access and sustainability will be asking — and answering — big questions about water at the Calgary Institute for Humanities (CIH) 37th annual community forum, May 12. The forum, Water in the West: Rights to Water/Rights of Water, will explore environmental concerns about water and First Nations’ perspectives on the precious resource. “First Nations are tremendously impacted by water issues, from access to clean water to resource development. And of course there’s also a spiritual dimension to water in almost every culture,” says Jim Ellis, a professor of English and director of the CIH, whose mission is to support and promote the values of humanities-based research.

Trumpcare, Idaho and beyond


The political effect of Thursday’s U.S. House vote on health policy - Trumpcare, as we hear - may be enormous, even in Idaho.

Both Idaho representatives, Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson, voted in favor of the Republican bill.

Writing about the raw ammunition this gives Democrats, the liberal site Daily Kos cobbled a quick generic attack ad: "Rep. X voted for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires while gutting health care for everyone else. Twenty-four million people thrown off Medicaid. Protections for people with pre-existing conditions destroyed. A bill so bad, Republicans wouldn't even let Americans see it before they voted."

Actually, the 24 million refers to to the total number who would lose insurance, Medicaid or otherwise, based on earlier versions of the legislation. (Disclosure: I may be one of the 24 or so million.) But that number may rise when the Congressional Budget Office and other organizations have time to carefully review the bill. Not in a very long time has a chamber of Congress voted for such a large bill without any solid research on what its cost or effects will be, and even without any hearings. It was jammed together in rapid-fire closed-door meetings, and even most House members were left in the dark on specifics.

The followup to 20 million people losing health insurance as a result of this legislation, recent academic studies estimated, is that somewhere between 24,000 and 44,000 Americans would die annually as a result. (A side rhetorical question: When Al-Qaeda attacked us in 2001 and killed more than 3,000 Americans, we accurately labeled them terrorists; if members of Congress vote to pass a bill they have been told will cost more than 20,000 Americans their lives, every year, what should we call them? We may get that debate in the months ahead.) It also may weaken health insurance provided by employers, so if you’re insured through your job, don’t think you have no skin in this.

The effect in Idaho would be large. The new bill may destroy many state health insurance exchanges, which more than 100,000 Idahoans rely on for health care. As a starter.

True, the bill as written is unlikely to get far in the Senate. But House members, even if they were acting with that in mind, voted on the bill as written. It’s on their records, and they’re stuck with it.

But surely that doesn’t have anything to do with Idaho? Idaho is, as they say, ruby red. Labrador and Simpson win in landslides every other years. Does it matter what they do?

Don’t be so certain: People could be hurt, frightened, or both, by what may come next. Politics evolves, even in Idaho. The Senate will not act on it swiftly. (Actual hearings are likely there.) The legislation, at least some of the Senate options, will likely not wear well as people figure out their increased risk.

Don’t be surprised if the unruly town hall Labrador held a couple of weeks ago becomes a portent of larger things to come.

Now, a followup note on last week’s column about Raul Labrador’s political future.

It included a passing reference to Senator Jim Risch, who is up for election in 2020, for what would be a third term. Owing maybe in part to considerations of age, there’s been some chatter (including in Republican circles) that Risch may not run again.

That drew a quick phone call from Risch personally. He was unequivocal: Any such contention was wrong; he and his backers already are at work raising money and organizing (even this early in the cycle); he plans and expects to be on the ballot seeking another term.

I heard nothing evasive or cautionary; he made his intentions as clear as he could short of a formal campaign announcement (which would not come until much further along in the cycle).

Noted. Another factor for Labrador to consider, presumably, in evaluating his future.

Time to close the gap?


The first sign of trouble was not particularly dramatic, but it got my attention.

Last November, when the Supreme Court was hearing cases in Twin Falls, I felt a pain in my left side just as we started hearing our second case. It felt like a heavy pressure was being exerted below my rib cage. I thought it might be a heart problem, which prompted a visit to a doc-in-the-box. The doctor assured me it was not a heart issue but could not pinpoint the cause of the pain. I left with an antibiotic prescription, but the pain went away before I could take one.

In early December, when the Court was hearing cases in Boise, I had a recurrence of the pain. I visited my family doctor, who ordered an MRI to see if it might be an ulcer. When the result came back, it looked like there was some sort of mass on my pancreas, so I went in for a CT scan to further investigate. The scan disclosed a tumor on the pancreas, so I went in for an endoscopic ultrasound. The ultrasound probe goes down into the stomach and sidles right up close to the pancreas to get some really good pictures. Biopsy samples disclosed that the tumor was malignant. Since then it has been surgically removed and I am currently on chemotherapy.

All of the medical folks have said it was good the cancer was caught early. We all know that early detection of almost any illness is important to a favorable patient outcome. Luckily, I had good insurance coverage under the State’s plan - the same plan that protects the health of Idaho legislators and executive branch employees. Without the three relatively expensive exploratory scans paid for by the insurance company, I would have been out of luck.

I think of the 78,000 Idahoans in the Medicaid gap and wonder about their fate when they start having suspicious symptoms. I suspect they just have to suck it up and take a pain reliever. No costly tests for them to find the cause of puzzling symptoms.

Most of these folks work hard to take care of their families but make too much to get Medicaid coverage and too little to get subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Had Idaho opted to take the many millions of dollars available to expand its Medicaid program, like 31 other states have done, those people could have a chance for a good outcome.

It seems to me that the time has come for Idaho to join the other 31 states and get some of the life sustaining funds that we have previously allowed to go to other states.

It is not clear whether the Affordable Care Act will be amended, repealed or remain in place. But, based on what has occurred in the debate thus far this year, it does not appear that Congress will repeal the Medicaid expansion that was part of the ACA. Idaho should now demand its share of the Medicaid expansion money. Continued refusal to take the money will perpetuate the unattended medical problems suffered by Medicaid gap families.

This is a moral issue, not a political issue. We should not require that people dispose of their assets to qualify for Medicaid or, worse, that they run for public office in order to get good health insurance.

Cowboys vs loggers


There is an emerging split among the normally unified resource industries of Idaho that so far has escaped wide public notice. It is, however, a matter that could have profound implications for those Idahoans who make a living off of natural resource conversion whether it is turning trees into lumber, graze for cattle into steaks, wheat into bread, or extracted minerals into metals.

It is a fight beween Idaho’s ranchers and farmers on one side, and on the other side are Idaho’s loggers, timber industry and contract haulers. The issue is who the Trump Administration should select for the critical deputy undersecretary position within the Department of Agriculture that oversees the Forest Service.

Now that former Georgia Governor “Sonny” Perdue has been confirmed as the department Secretary the battle is intensifying. Idaho’s ranchers and farmers are supporting one of their own, Melba rancher Layne Bangerter, 55, who worked for 13 years as the natural resource advisor to Idaho’s senior Senator, Mike Crapo. He played a key role for the senator in the negotiations that led to a successful resolution of the complex debate over preservation of the Owyhee Canyonlands.

Of more relevance today is Bangerter’s role as the chair of the Idaho Committee to elect Donald Trump president. In the course of the campaign, Bangerter reportedly hit it off well with Donald Trump, Jr., and also traveled with then vice presidential candidate, Michael Pence. Furthermore, Bangerter is a graduae of BYU and a bishop in the LDS Church..

An interesting aside is Bangerter years ago worked as a coyote trapper on Lt. Governor Brad Little’s ranch. Little is thus supporting an old friend, though he says either group’s candidate could do the job. To him the more important decision is how will decisions get made? Will the old concentrate in the Council on Environmental Quality’s hands model be taken up or will there be a true devolvement of authority to the cabinet and sub-agency level?

Those associated with Idaho’s timber industry are strongly backing Erica Rhoad, the House Resources staff director for the Subcommittee on Federal lands. Rhoad has a pedigree that would normally make her a lead pipe cinch to get the position. She started lining up support and solidifying her base within a few days after the election. Among her credentials are time spent working as the Federal Liaison for the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Affairs, service on the staff of former California Congressman Richard Pombo, and director of policy for the American Forestry Association.

Perhaps her greatest asset, according to Bob Boeh, vice president of external affairs for the Idaho Forest Group, is her knowledge of the issues. Boeh says “we have nothing against Layne, we just feel there are so many major issues vital to the industry’s future coming so rapidly down the pike that there’s not sufficient time for Layne to get up to speed. Erica knows the issues and will hit the ground running.”

Boeh also reported that his company had signed a letter endorsed by 32 other industry related organizations and sportsman groups suppporting Rhoad’s appointment. The letter will go to Secretary Perdue as well as the Idaho congressional delegation.

Needless to say, Idaho’s ranchers and farmers, despite the fact that Rhoad grew up on a Colorado ranch and went to Colorado State, are putting together a letter of their endorsing organizations to be sent to Secretary Perdue and the Idaho congressional delegation. Senators Crapo and Risch are thought to be supporting Bangerter. First District Congressman Raul Labrador did not return phone calls to his office.

Second District Congressman Mike Simpson is backing Rhoad inasmuch as she once worked for him when with the Interior Appropriations subcommittee which Simpson chairs.

Shawn Keough, the executive director of the Idaho Logging Contractor’s Association, says her organization is officially neutral though she did acknowledge their national group, the American Logging Contractors Association, is one of the 33 signees to the letter Boeh referenced.

Former Larry Craig staffer Mark Rey, who held the post for eight years is strongly supporting Rhoad. He points out that she is exceptionally qualified because of her unique undertanding of the legislative process and the agency, how to make policy work with a large field organization, and her knowledge of the budget process by virture of her work on both the appropriations subcommittee and the authorizing subcommittee.

Despite these superb credemtials there is really only one constituent and literally he trumps all others----Donald Trump, Jr. He has remained close and if he wants Bangerter in that post, Bangerter will get the nod.

A conservative decision


Last week, a federal district judge blocked enforcement of President Trump’s executive order threatening to cut federal funding to “sanctuary cities,” those that do not help the federal government apprehend and deport undocumented immigrants.

In his ruling, Judge William H. Orrick of the Northern District of California explained that the president had attempted to usurp powers that belong to Congress – that he cannot, by fiat, impose conditions on federal funds.

That power belongs to Congress and, were Congress to impose conditions, it would have to ensure that the conditions were unambiguous; imposed before the funds had been accepted; and had a nexus with the federal program’s purpose. In other words, for Congress to condition a grant on a city helping the federal government apprehend and deport undocumented immigrants, the grant would have to have some connection with law enforcement or immigration.

Finally, and importantly, the financial inducement could not be coercive. That is to say that state and local governments cannot be commandeered to enforce federal law. As the judge noted, the administration clearly intended the executive order to be coercive. As support, he cited President Trump’s unabashed declaration that the executive order would be “a weapon” to wield against sanctuary cities.

The day the court announced its decision, Idaho’s junior Senator Jim Risch criticized the ruling, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that it was the product of a “left-leaning judge.” Risch flatly predicted that appellate courts would reverse it. I think he’s wrong on both counts.

Frankly, this is a rather conservative decision. It upholds the constitutional principle of separation of powers and fortifies the Tenth Amendment which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Republicans have long complained that judges have given the Tenth Amendment short shrift and that the growth of federal power has come at the expense of the states. How odd then that those Republicans who have long railed against federal meddling in traditionally local activities – like city policing – now champion that very thing.

Trump’s knee-jerk response to Judge Orrick’s ruling was to threaten to break up the Ninth Circuit. He talks as if he could accomplish this on his own, but once again he forgets that congressional action would be required. Of course, some members of Congress would like to see the Ninth Circuit carved up, but I think that’s a non-starter.

Exactly eighty years ago, Franklin Roosevelt was miffed at the judiciary. He put forward his “court-packing” plan, a blatant attempt to punish the Supreme Court for blocking his New Deal legislation and “pack” the court with additional justices who would shift the court’s philosophical balance and uphold his agenda. His plan, born of frustration, met with widespread bi-partisan opposition. The American people, who strongly supported Roosevelt’s agenda, nonetheless disapproved of such machinations.

Now Trump, in a fit of pique, hopes to intimidate the federal judiciary with ham-handed threats. His immature rants are likely to backfire. I expect the American people will become more – not less – protective of judicial independence. Federal judges should not be above criticism, but that criticism – especially when it comes from the president – should be directed to the wisdom, integrity, and intellectual honesty of their opinions, not because they refuse to rubber stamp the president’s political agenda.

If Trump thinks Judge Orrick is mistaken, he has a right to appeal the court’s decision to the Ninth Circuit. But, if he does appeal, I predict the Ninth Circuit and the Supreme Court – should it consider the case – would affirm Judge Orrick’s ruling. And I expect that Trump, in his ignorance of the Constitution, will continue to take actions that will be rebuffed by the judiciary. He will continue to lose – not only in federal court, but in the court of public opinion.

That damned eclipse


My birthday falls on the usual date this year. It will, if I have my way, be roundly ignored since I long ago found personal health and activity level better and more reliable benchmarks than an arbitrary number on the calendar.

Besides, in our little seaside backwater, “an act of God” two days later will get more note in the month of August than my personal natal remembrance. On the 21st, our sky will go dark at about 10:17 in the morning. Birds and our local whale colony will become confused. Based on previous eclipse experience - and for reasons I’ll never understand - cameras will click and flash by the thousands in the blackness. Sun-worshipers will have nothing to worship. Local merchants will stand guard by their cash registers until the sun reappears two minutes later.

It’ll be that damned, once-in-a-lifetime, broad daylight total blackout that comes around only every century or so. Big deal! Better it should happen in Los Angeles or San Francisco or Seattle. That would give ‘em a real show.

When we moved into our little Pacific nest a few years back, we did so because the area is somewhat isolated. Aside from the summer months and spring break, people pretty much leave us alone. The sound of waves hitting the shoreline is about the most noise we hear. We’re surrounded by old growth forest. Highway 101 going North and South is the only way in and out of the area. Not truly an idyllic spot. But close.

Now, this is what we’re being told will happen in mid-August.

Starting several days before the 21st, traffic counts will go through the roof on the two state highways from inland to Newport and Lincoln City. The day of - and the day before - authorities are predicting locked bumpers from Salem, Corvallis and Eugene to the East. And where will all those that can get through wind up? Yep. Right here. On a two-lane U.S. Highway 101 that - remember now - is the only highway. And is likely to be gridlocked for the week.

Motels are already booked solid for days before and after. Rates that usually run $150-200 a night in tourist season sold out at up to $1,000 a night. Some motels have been requiring a five night stay. RV parks? Not a spot. Campgrounds, too. Some eating joints are publishing new menus with higher prices. And I can’t wait to see what a gallon of gas will sell for at the few local stations we have.

Every porta-potty in 400 miles has been rented. Extra sanitary trucks are being contracted. Emergency personnel - and all reserves - will be at full staffing and are already worried how they’ll get through all the jam-packed traffic when needed. And they will be needed.

Eye protection is another issue. We locals can get some free, heavily tinted temp glasses with cardboard earpieces. But what about the tourists? How many will come with their own proper equipment? Probably damned few. So, our two small hospitals are worried about how their emergency rooms will fare during all the hubbub. With eye burns and other injuries.

Grocery stores are already laying in extra merchandise. Locals have been advised to buy a week’s worth of food so they can hole up at home and stay off the roads and out of the expected mess. Also fill up their vehicles early since gas supplies may run out.

Every day seems to bring a new warning or caution from those in charge around here. Local “media” is full of tips and stories of expected problems. Emergency folk are already putting out news releases about this-and-that expected eclipse-related issues - most having to do with traffic and illegal parking blocking access to various locations for 40 miles either way. How does a driver pull over for a screaming siren when both sides of the only highway are blocked with empty cars illegally parked bumper to bumper?

At our house, right under the flight path, we’re trying to decide whether to get out of town for the week or stock up on supplies of everything and stay off the streets for seven days. Could go either way.

My birthday may go largely unnoticed this year. That’s fine. ‘Cause the really big deal will hit two days later. At 10:17am. That damned eclipse.