Paging the governor
Our take: Gov. Butch Otter has rightly followed the lead of predecessors Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus, rejecting the idea of allowing additional nuclear waste shipments into Idaho.
Post Register, Idaho Falls
Otter’s Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission continues to work toward its goal of identifying ways Idaho National Laboratory can thrive, short of becoming the nation's nuclear waste repository.
This commission will come up with smart and specific recommendations about keeping INL vibrant while respecting the spirit of the 1995 nuclear waste Settlement Agreement with the feds. There are too many talented people on the commission for it to fail.
It’s the other end of this process eastern Idahoans should worry about. Folks in the know worry that Otter, who will receive those recommendations and, presumably, lead the effort to act upon them, might not be up to the task — that he doesn’t appear to fully comprehend the gravity of the situation.
INL is about to get hit with another round of budget cuts. Jobs will be lost, from 200 to 1,000, depending on Washington, D.C., politics. Everyone, from the top of the Battelle food chain to the folks who sweep the floors, understands this. Talk to someone who works at the site and chances are you are talking to someone who is updating his resume.
That’s reality. But so is this: Cleanup on the desert has gone remarkably well. The threat to the aquifer has been largely mitigated. Here’s more reality: With Yucca Mountain off the table, the feds are not going to have all the waste removed by 2035. Some LINE Commission members are pushing the state to explore renegotiation of the Settlement Agreement to see whether there’s anything to be gained from agreeing to hold onto materials that pose little, if any, environmental threat.
But when that topic was broached in May, the old warriors, Andrus and Batt, drew lines in the sand. That’s understandable, given their experiences. What was difficult to comprehend was why Otter jointed them in their absolutism, undercutting his commission and ending a debate this state needs to have.
Clearly, Otter needs to freshen his perspective before he receives the LINE Commission’s recommendations. Forget the ribbon-cuttings. Ignore the suits in their air-conditioned offices. Get out to the desert. See the cleanup for yourself. Talk to the workers. Experience the uncertainty. Taste the fear felt by those wondering whether they’ll have a job in a couple of months.
In his six years in office, Otter has developed a reputation around here for being more absent than present. In fact, there’s a joke that gets told in eastern Idaho, that to get the governor out to the desert will require an INL rodeo.
Five years ago, that would have been funny.
Today, in this political and economic atmosphere, it’s alarming.
This state is about to engage in a debate about the future of a national laboratory that means everything to eastern Idaho’s economy and, given its multiplier effect, a great deal to the state.
We need a chief executive who is prepared to lead. Is Otter up to the task? Is he willing to let the old battles go and embrace new realities dictated by facts on the ground? Will he put in the legwork required to understand the information flow coming his way?
Let’s hope so, because at this critical juncture, he’s all we’ve got.
Timely data aboutan Idaho lifeline
Cheers to AARP of Idaho. It’s launching a campaign — dubbed “You’ve Earned a Say” — to engage Idahoans about looming changes to Medicare and Social Security. Go to earnedasay.org — it’s informational and invites opinions.
The AARP program demonstrates how much Idahoans depend on Social Security:
Æ Without Social Security, 39 percent of Idaho’s senior citizens would be living below the federal poverty line.
Æ Two-thirds rely on Social Security for half their income.
Æ One in six Idahoans draws a Social Security check.
Æ Idaho has the 49th lowest per capita income in the country.
In Idaho, Social Security is a lifeline.