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Posts published in “Idaho”

The evolution of a burn

An Idaho burn
Smoke plume near Worley/photo Jessica Caplan/SAFE

In its decision effectively tossing out the state of Idaho's ability to allow grass field burning in Northern Idaho, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals remarks, "The current treatment of field burning in the Idaho SIP [state implementation plan, a revised version of which allows the burns] came about as the result of a thirty-five-year regulatory evolution." An evolution from one set of intents (and one kind of politics) to another it certainly was; but it was the fact of the evolution, as much as anything else, that led the court to its conclusion.

Field burning has been used for many years as part of grass seed production, not just in Idaho (it is used in parts of the souther Willamette Valley as well), and is thought to improve the quality of the crop. There are arguments that it has beneficial environmental effects. There's no question, though, that it also produces air pollution - very visibly, and easily smelled. It is obvious enough that one of the farmers' biggest adversaries long has been Duane Hagadone and his news organizations; Hagadone well understands what tourists think of smoked-up lakefronts, such as where his resort and gold course are located. But the most powerful arguments come from people with respiratory impairments; some of them are literally put at risk of their lives from the smoke. There is a care active organization battling the burns, called Safe Air For Everyone, which has picked up a number of larger allies.

When the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970 and Idaho, like other states, submitted an implementation plan - which, once adopted and approved by the EPA, has the effect of federal law - it mentioned the burns. The burns were allowed, with limitations, such as that "When such burning creates air pollution or a public nuisance, additional restrictions may be imposed to minimize the effect upon the environment." In 1993, Idaho proposed and the EPA accepted a revision of the implementation rules that deleted field burns from the list of acceptable burns in the state. There were more minor, technical, changes in 2003.

In 2005, the state of Idaho Idaho made another revision, to add this: "“The open burning of crop residue on fields where the crops were grown is an allowable form of open burning if conducted in accordance with the Smoke Management and Crop Residue Disposal Act and the rules promulgated pursuant thereto.” There were protests to the EPA, but the agency approved the change.

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Water, not so much

running waterAfter the ferocious storms of November and December - especially on the western side of the Northwest but to some extent through much of the east as well - you're probably thinking that the Northwest's water picture for the year is secure, if not cause for concern about flooding.

Not so fast. January has been dry, almost region-wide. It turns out that the accumulated precipitation percentage - basically, the amount of water buildup in places like the snowpack that would be normal for this time of year - has fallen substantially from a month ago. That doesn't mean drought is imminent, but it does mean the Northwest actually could see shortages in some places.

In Washington state, where the accumulation percentages all are still well over norma, there were drops from late December. The Chelan-Entiat-Wentchee system fell from 146% to 126%; Lewis-Cowlitz from 139% to 120%; the Columbia River above Methow from 126% to 114%.

In Oregon the declines were a shade more modest, but they were universal. On the Coast Range, for example, the drop was 126% to 107%; in the Willamette 123% to 112%; in the Lake County area 91% to 75%; in the Malheir River basin 102% to 87%.

In Idaho, where the snowpack was running almost exactly at normal in December, the numbers have fallen a little below: form 126% to 114% in the Clearwater basin (the second-best, after the Pndhandle basins at 117%); 102% to 86% in the Weiser; 112% to 94% in the Payette; 109% to 89% in the Boise River basin; 99% to 82% in the Big Lost; 100% to 86% in the Willow-Blackfoot; 100% to 83% in the Owyhee.

No time to panic, but it is time to keep a little closer watch on the water.

Compromise

There's something likable in this as a matter of procedure, stance and politics, whether or not as policy: Announcement of a compromise over $43 million (to date) of Statehouse construction, in the dispute between Governor Butch Otter and leaders of the legislature.

The legislature was firmly committed to construction of two new floors of office and meeting space underneath the current basement floor. Otter, as he had said bluntly in his campaign last fall, was opposed.

Apparently, the deal struck involves one floor instead of two, and there may be other elements as well.

However that eventually looks, there is this: A governor and legislature in Idaho that had a disagreement and then - instead of getting huffy about it, as so typically has happened - they compromise.

What a concept. Here's an idea that, whether either side realizes it at the moment, can make them both look good.

Airless

The current number of bills introduced in the Idaho House so far this session is 50; we can remember when more than that were introduced before the session even commenced. The number in the Senate is 45. These seem like unusually small numbers.

When we inquired of the legislature's bill-writing staff, we were told the numbers aren't radically smaller: "There are six fewer bills introduced this year than last at this time. Typically the first session has a lower bill volume than the second. The only thing I can think that might be a bit of a curb at this point is the Capitol Restoration."

That's one way to look at it. There's also this, from the bottom of an Associated Press piece on the Statehouse project: "Lawmakers say the focus on the wing standoff has sucked the oxygen out of the 2007 Legislature. Amid the distraction, the total number of bills drafted this year is at a five year low."

Earmarked

Aizona U.S. Representative Jeff Flake, a Republican, evidently is going to war (now) on congressional earmarks - those specified pieces of federal spending which members place to benefit their home turf. He has, for one thing, introduced legislation (HR 631) to combat them: "A bill to prohibit Federal agencies from obligating funds for earmarks included only in congressional reports, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform." His co-sponsors include one member of th Northwest delegation, new Idaho Representative Bill Sali, whose district includes northern Idaho.

Maybe of more moment (and somewhat like long-ago Senator William Proxmire), Flake is taking to highlighting an earmark of the week: Such declarations can sometimes pick up considerable national attention. His most recent such, as it turns out, is aimed at Idaho, specifically northern Idaho:

"This week’s egregious earmark: $150,000 to Lewiston, Idaho for completion of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Project. 'Any more earmarks like this and not even Sacagawea will be able to lead us out of this fiscal wilderness,' said Flake."

[And a hat tip to the correspondent who alerted us.]

Right to Life, negatively reviewed, by . . .

On Saturday, a mass of Boiseans, maybe 20,000 or so, marched in the streets of downtown Boise to demonstrate their peak priority - celebrating the Boise State University football team. (The Idaho Statesman says "We've got video of all the excitement.") A few hours earlier, there was another march, attracting about 500 people, organized by Right to Life of Idaho.

It got little attention. But it generated a ferocious negative review, and not from the left, either: This comes from Dennis Mansfield, whose anti-abortion record in Idaho is quite clear. His post on the rally is a must-read on current Idaho politics.

An alternative to the space crunch

Idaho statehouse interiorThe space crunch at the Idaho Statehouse that state legislators talk about, as they discuss the need for two underground floors of legislative space, is real. The public encounters it most specifically in the small committee meeting rooms, which designed for another era and often jam packed with legislators, staff, lobbyists, reporters and others. Arrive on time for an Idaho legislative committee meeting and, even on uncontroversial days, your chances of finding even standing room are not good.

Other forms of legislative space need not be in such precious demand. Go back 20 years and you would see an Idaho Legislature which in large measure did its work on the floor; leadership and committee chairs had offices, but most other members worked at their desks in the chambers, where they had phones and filing cabinets. Most especially, they were accessible to the public that way. Now, once floor sessions are over, most scurry off to out-of-the-way offices, out of view. (More than a few long-time legislature watchers think the push for individual offices and personal assistants will be coming next.) Washington and Oregon may have passed the point in population, interest groups and overall traffic where floor work is practical, but we don't think Idaho has. More space probably is needed for legislative staff, but not necessarily an inordinate amount.

The overwhelming, bipartisan legislative answer to this is to add two floors to the Statehouse, underground, adding $40 million onto the building renovation price tag of $80.

The issue here seems to have been framed as "to dig or not to dig" - or, whether to expand legislative space or not. Some expansion is clearly needed; that's not an issue. The question is whether to go underground and create the new $40 million space, or to use two buildings - the old Ada County courthouse and the Borah Post Office building - each located directly across the street from the Statehouse and each almost all empty, both of which the state already owns. One of which will be used for state executive and legislative offices for the next three years, as plans currently stand.

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Blurred

The lines, they do get blurry. A weekend news anchor for KTVB Channel 7 in Boise, Andrea Dearden, also has a second job during the work week, that of a spokesman for the Ada County Sheriff's Office. The relationship is not distant: As anyone who watches local TV news knows, local law enforcement agencies routinely get a lot of air time.

KTVB Manager Doug Armstrong told the Idaho Statesman he has no problem with the mix of jobs.

However, a station website profile of Dearden which (the Statesman reported) listed her as a crime reporter as well as anchor, is now (as of this writing at least) gone from the website.

There are a variety of ethical questions involved here, though we should note that the issue isn't of long standing, since her hiring at the Sheriff's Office is recent and she said she will work only a few more weeks for KTVB.

We bring it up mostly for this reason, an explanatory quote from Armstrong to the Statesman: "You can't confuse reading the news with being a reporter."

That is a provocative statement. Stop and think for a moment about all the promotion, on both the local and national level, of news anchors. We're not suggesting Armstrong is wrong. But the question is obvious: If news anchors aren't reporters, what are they?

Instructions from out of town

Micron Technology
Micron Technology

If Micron Technology is on your radar screen you have a couple of pieces of information to absorb from this week, both with significant potential reach for Idaho's largest business and private employer.

One was fairly public (though unreported so far on its own web site): The decision by stockholders to adopt language banning discrimination on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This was an initiative prompted by the managers of the pension funds of New York City, which are major Micron stockholders, and the proposal was approved by more than 55% of the shares.

Public corporations are not controlled exclusively at their headquarters, and this is certainly an instance of that: Corporate executives had maintained, firmly, that such an explicit policy wasn't needed because existing corporate policy already covered that ground. Our speculation is that the opposition came from some concern about running afoul of the larger cultural environment in Southwest Idaho where a plurality - but no longer a majority - of the firm's employees live and work.

The second item makes the matter of external influences even more explicit.

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Visibility

The Boise Idaho Statesman has just done a thorough redesign of its web site, and it marks a considerable improvement in ease of navigation, visibility and loading time (which in recent months has been, in our experience, the worst among Northwest daily newspapers).

It also marks the most visible link to its new owner, the McClatchy newspaper group. Compare the design approach of the Statesman's front page to that of the (also McClatchy-owned) Tacoma News Tribune.