Friday, March 4, 2005

Idahoans battle for rights in public business

Too many politicians who suddenly find themselves bestowed with office and power quickly forget the maxim that drives the American democracy: "of, by and for the people."

Idahoans can find current examples of how the fight for their rights in public business is constant, annoying and a threat to democracy:

· The Idaho Senate once again refused to change a law that allows public officials to limit who speaks at a public hearing on animal feeding operations to people living within one mile of the site.

The absurdity of the law is obvious, even to nonfarm families: Unpleasant odors from a feed lot—known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO)—drift far and wide and create environmental distress for families living well beyond a one-mile radius.

Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, who wrote legislation to override the one-mile limit, was absolutely correct when he challenged supporters of the limit to drive through dairy areas with their windows down for a whiff of how far odors can spread.

But just as obvious is why feed lot operators want the one-mile limit on who can complain: Most who live inside a one-mile radius either own or work at feedlots, or are dependant on them and thus can be expected not to complain or be gentle in their criticism.

· Unless the state Senate votes otherwise, Idahoans are virtually assured of more lax safety and health inspections of their water and sewer systems.

The House approved a bill removing the Department of Environmental Quality's authority to approve changes in water and sewer systems, and allow any licensed engineer to issue an approval.

Rep. Lawrence Denney, R-Midvale, wrote the legislation because of his impatience with DEQ's pace in approving water and sewer system changes.

And as if he hadn't heard of the fable of the fox guarding the chickens, Rep. Denney is bringing a bill to the House that would allow licensed engineers to inspect and approve their own water and sewer system work.

Unhappy with a court decision giving public access to information about manure spreading by dairies and cattle ranches, the Idaho Cattle Association is muscling legislators to give the Agriculture Department authority over the information and then seal it from the public.

Spreading manure is a health and an environmental issue. The public is entitled to know the extent of animal waste in their neighborhoods.

If this effort to prevent public access to yet more vital data succeeds, how would legislators explain whose interests they represent?

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