For the week of June 17 thru June 23, 1998  

Uncle Sam’s bank is open for business

Idaho Sen. Dirk Kempthorne has the keys to Uncle Sam’s bank and it’s open for business.

Kempthorne’s attached a rider to a defense bill that will turn over 12,000 acres of federal land to the Air Force for an expanded bomb-training range near Mountain Home.

The rider also contained a little goody for rancher Bert Brackett. He has a federal permit to graze cattle on the land. Kempthorne’s rider would pay Brackett a cool $1 million for loss of grazing and for improvements like fencing and irrigation equipment.

Brackett is a long-time contributor to the Republican Party in Idaho and his daughter works as a legislative assistant for Idaho Sen. Larry Craig.

This stinks. Worse than the pay-off politics involved, it sets a precedent that could force the public to compensate people who hold permits to use federal lands when use is curtailed.

If that’s the way it’s to be, Kempthorne better open up the vault. There’s going to be a line at the teller window.

First to line up will be timber companies, whose harvest of federal timber was reduced in order to protect endangered species like the spotted owl and salmon. Behind them will be loggers who lost their jobs when timber sales were cut back.

Mining companies will want to strike deals for compensation when environmental laws drive up the cost of leaching precious metals from rocks. With deft PR and a good lobbyist, the mining companies may find it more lucrative to leave the mines and prospect in the halls of Congress than to get their hands dirty breaking rocks.

Idaho’s whitewater outfitters ought to get in line. Every time the Forest Service curtails their summer operations by limiting float times to protect spawning salmon it should be worth pocketful of cash. Outfitters whose operations on the Bruneau River will be disrupted by whining jets should give Kempthorne a call—after they donate to his campaign coffers, of course. Kempthorne should want to buy their rafts at four or five times the retail cost.

Dirt bike companies and horse traders may want to claim reduced sales every time Congress sets aside land for wilderness or closes trails on public lands.

Maybe Sun Valley Company could get a little moola if it claimed loss of business because its lifts cannot carry mountain bikes to the top of Baldy during elk calving season.

The Brackett payoff would pave the way for grazers to claim that their use of federal lands is a right and not a privilege. The payoff contradicts the very specific language in the Taylor Grazing Act that says grazing is not a right, but a privilege. Grazers have had no success in getting the language changed although they have tried for years.

Kempthorne’s honor and the integrity of politics in Idaho are on the line. So is Uncle Sam’s bank. The candidate for governor needs to set things right by withdrawing his rider from the defense bill.


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