CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION
Post Register, Idaho Falls
For the last year, some of this state's best and brightest took a broad view of Idaho National Laboratory. The idea behind Gov. Butch Otter's Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission was to assess a future that will be impacted by two factors:
- The national deficit and federal budget cuts.
- The death of the national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.
This conversation has been healthy for policymakers and citizens. Everybody, including the governor, has a better idea of the work that gets done at the site, the progress made in mitigating threats to the aquifer and how valuable the 1995 Settlement Agreement has been since Gov. Phil Batt crafted it and endured vitriolic criticism as he fought for its approval.
Eastern Idahoans understand INL's economic value. Now, hopefully, the rest of the state realizes its future is also tied into an entity responsible for 24,000 direct and indirect jobs and which contributes more than $3.5 billion annually to Idaho's economy. And we hope everyone understands the national significance of INL. It can be argued the single best way to combat global warming and reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil is through the research being conducted on the desert.
But, and for this we can thank Batt and former Gov. Cecil Andrus, there can be no blank checks written, no blind loyalty based on economics or national security. The feds must clean up their mess. The last 900,000 gallons of liquid waste must be solidified. And, as Otter said, Idaho will not become the nation's de-facto waste repository.
The LINE Commission's final report and recommendations, handed to Otter last week, can be viewed as an end to this process. We would argue that the work is just beginning.
Seven decades ago, a group of ambitious eastern Idahoans convinced the federal government this was the place to conduct vital research. We have learned much from our experiences. Today, we stand at a crossroads. The threats to our environment have been greatly reduced. The days of automatic budget increases are gone. Other national labs want what we have.
The reality is we know all the waste will not be leaving Idaho by 2035, as required by the Batt Agreement. With Yucca out of the picture, it has no place to go. We know some of these materials can be safely stored at INL for hundreds of years.
That's just one of many issues that remain. But who will address them? The answer is right in front of us. We urge Otter to extend his executive order that created the LINE Commission. At some point, Idahoans may be asked to make monumental decisions that have a profound impact on the future of INL.
The best way to prepare for that day is to continue this conversation.
JEERS ... to Idaho Senate Resources and Conservation Chairman Monty J. Pearce, R-New Plymouth, who led the Senate's 19-16 drive to oust Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Joan Hurlock of Buhl. Pearce apparently urged only the second female Fish and Game commissioner to step aside and, instead, seek a seat on the state nursing board.
JEERS ... to Idaho state Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa. In a state that creates artificial scarcity by deciding who cannot sell liquor by the drink, a business has two choices: wait for one of these licenses to go on the market or pay a lobbyist to persuade lawmakers to pass an exemption.
That's how golf courses, ski resorts, airport lounges, conservation centers and equestrian facilities sell liquor.
When Tamarack Resort wanted up to 12 licenses, Crane said OK.
Only when the Nez Perce Tribe approached lawmakers with a similar request for its new Clearwater River Casino event center did Crane show restraint.
"I know the tribe has struggled with the issue of alcoholism, and I don't see how this legislation will help them deal with that," Crane said.
Congratulations on your newly acquired sanctimony, Rep. Crane.