Friday, December 8, 2006

Legislators take backward step in energy planning

The Idaho Legislature's Energy, Environment and Technology Interim Committee need not have gone through the sham of pretending to be a serious study group concerned with Idaho's energy planning and siting of electricity generating plants.

Instead, the lawmakers' recommendation that future plants—especially coal-fired units—be approved by local politicians shows disdain for regional vision, indifference to the environment, and proof that 21st century thinking has yet to dawn in parts of the state Capitol.

Hope was rampant that the committee would see the need for regional planning of plant sites, regulated by a state agency with a broad vision of regional concerns. But, no, it merely echoed arguments of Jerome County officials who were in a rush to approve a $1 billion-plus coal-fired plant despite evidence that it would spew adjoining counties with pollutants and damage economies afar. Their motive was the mirage of jobs and tax revenues.

The argument for "local control" of siting is totally misapplied. "Local control" is fine for siting a fire station and a city park. However, local, state and federal governments recognize and honor the need for regional, intra-state and national planning for facilities when vaster areas and larger populations are affected.

A nuclear power plant operator, for example, can't show up in Podunk, U.S.A., buy cheap land and go into business with only the approval of local politicians. A nuclear plant is subject to an array of federal requirements involving safety and environment.

One curious aspect of the committee's staged deliberations: A consulting firm reportedly involved in committee deliberations, San-Francisco-based Energy and Environmental Economics Inc., lists 42 power companies as clients and dozens of other energy-related corporations.

Another glaring flaw in the committee's decision is that local decisions should be made on local energy needs.

The fact is, Sempra Generation's proposed plant in Jerome County was designed to export electricity to other states, not to serve Jerome.

Because of Idaho's carefree political attitude about regulating business, smokestack industries see the state as fertile territory for buying up sites in remote areas and getting "local control" politicians to approve operations without worry of explaining the economic or environmental impact of their industries.

Other lawmakers and citizen groups more concerned with the state's future must reject this committee decision and return to the fight in January when the full Legislature meets.

Idaho's environment can't be turned over to out-of-state industries in search of a who-cares regulatory mentality.

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