Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Idaho must lift its energy sights beyond polluting coal

Idaho literally is at a fork in the road.

Should it take the road of cheap coal and smokestack emissions that would poison its clean environs?

Or should it choose the wiser course of clean energy?

Unless Idaho wants to play odd-man-out among peer states, it should heed the call to arms of the Western Governors' Associating meeting this week. Governors from 18 states and three U.S.-flag Pacific islands passed resolutions calling for reduction of greenhouse gases and development of alternate energy sources.

Clouding Idaho's future, however, is Idaho Power's announced plan to generate 500 more megawatts of electricity by 2013 from coal-fired plants, and Idaho's pending decision on participation in the so-called cap-and-trade emissions credit program of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Cap-and-trade allows industries with air emissions to begin or to continue polluting by buying credits from other industries that have reduced emissions. It's a shell game. There's no net reduction in pollution, only a ceiling.

The decision on whether Idaho will participate in cap-and-trade rests with short-term Gov. Jim Risch, who says he'll decide by November. If Idaho opts out, it would slam the door on coal-fired electrical generation and harmful mercury emissions.

Meanwhile, the state Legislature is developing energy policies during a two-year moratorium on building coal plants.

Lawmakers won't complete their study until January 2007. It would be premature for Gov. Risch to commit the state to a cap-and-trade program in November before lawmakers complete their tasks.

One constant cannot be overlooked: Idaho's preeminence in tourism and recreation as well as in-migration of new businesses and residents is based on its celebrated clear air and clean water.

Once those assets are fouled by pollutants, Idaho will have embarked on a future of costly losses to its pure environment and vastly more costly ongoing air and water cleanups borne by taxpayers.

Only the shortsighted would pursue that course instead of suitable alternative energy sources—solar retrofits for homes and businesses as well as solar farms, wind farms, and geothermal steam power.

Idaho cannot afford to hock its future to the quarterly profit concerns of its major energy firm rather than preserving the state's environment.

Protection of the state's air, water and clean industries rests with rank-and-file Idahoans who must energize their voices and demand a pollution-free future.

It rests, too, with disciplined legislators who reject the pressures of energy companies and write strict energy policies to protect the state and its people from mercury-belching coal plants.

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