Cecil Andrus, a Democrat and the longest-serving governor of Idaho, saved Castle Peak from miners and engineered public-land protections for 25 percent of Alaska.
Andrus went from logging in Orofino to the governor’s mansion in 1970 before Jimmy Carter made him Idaho’s first presidential Cabinet member, recruiting him as Interior secretary from 1977 to 1981. He returned to Idaho and won back the governor’s desk in 1986, championing increased support for education. He served four total terms as governor, the only Idahoan to do so.
He served on corporate boards and established the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University. He returned to the preservation fray in recent years to help Rep. Mike Simpson protect his beloved Boulder-White Clouds as wilderness in 2015, and he fought with the federal government to get nuclear waste out of Idaho his entire career.
Andrus died Thursday afternoon, just one day shy of his 86th birthday. The cause was complications related to lung cancer, said family spokesperson Tracy Andrus.
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Andrus will lie in state in the Idaho Capitol rotunda from noon Wednesday until noon Thursday. A private funeral is planned for Wednesday; a public memorial service is set for 2 p.m. Thursday in the Jordan Ballroom of the Boise State University Student Union.
His family asks that donations in his memory go to the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State — specifically an endowed chair, the Cecil D. Andrus Center Chair for Environment and Public Lands. Donations can be made at this link, or mail checks to Boise State University Foundation, Cecil D. Andrus Chair (SE009), 1173 W. University Drive, Boise, ID 83725.
Andrus was born in Hood River, Ore., and raised on a farm without electricity near Junction City before his family moved to Eugene in 1942. He graduated from high school in 1948 and attended Oregon State University, marrying Carol May in 1949.
He joined the Naval Reserves in 1951 and served in the Korean War as a electronics technician aboard patrol aircraft. He left in 1955 and moved to Orofino, where he logged and worked in a sawmill.
He often told the story about how he would skid logs down streambeds, tearing up salmon and trout habitat because it was the easiest way to move the wood.
“Those of us in logging in those good old days simply did not know any better,” Andrus said. “We were too engrossed in the everyday effort of earning a living to consider the long-term damage.”
Andrus, who hunted and fished to help feed the family when he lived on the farm, described his philosophy this way: “First you must make a living; then you must make a living that is worthwhile.”
He was elected in 1960 to the Idaho Senate, where he served four terms. He always described himself as a political accident: In 1966, when he made his first run for governor, a plane crash gave him a statewide following.
Andrus had lost the Democratic primary that year to Salmon attorney Charles Herndon. But when Herndon went down with two others in a small plane near Stanley, Andrus stepped in as his party’s candidate for governor. He lost to Republican Don Samuelson by 10,000 votes, giving him the dubious record of losing twice in one year.
He came back to run again in 1970, defeating Samuelson in a rematch.
Andrus was elevated to the governorship in part on the strength of his fight to stop Asarco Corp. from replacing iconic Castle Peak with an open-pit molybdenum mine in the heart of the White Cloud Mountains in Central Idaho. Out of that effort came the establishment of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in 1972.
“Cecil Andrus stood as tall as the mountain that made him governor,” said John Freemuth, executive director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy.
As governor, Andrus championed land-use planning, pushing through a state law in 1975. He advocated controlled and moderate growth, even opposing the proposed Pioneer Power Plant near Boise in 1974. He helped to establish the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.
These accomplishments led President Jimmy Carter to appoint him to lead the Department of the Interior in 1977. He went in determined to combine Interior with the Forest Service and other resource agencies into one Department of Natural Resources, an initiative that failed.
Wild Alaska: His greatest legacy
Andrus’ greatest national legacy is the 1980 Alaska Lands Act, which protected more than 100 million acres as national parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness. The wilderness and national park legislation had been on environmentalists’ agenda since the 1960s, after the passage of the Wilderness Act. Several attempts were made to push it through, but each was stopped by the powerful Alaska congressional delegation, especially Republican Sen. Ted Stevens.
The deadlock was broken with a classic Andrus power play. In 1978, Andrus convinced Carter to use the Antiquities Act to set 56 million acres of Alaska land aside as national monuments, preventing future development with the stroke of a pen. By doing so, they put the ball in the court of Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young and wilderness opponents, who would need a bill to override Carter and Andrus.
“It was clear to anybody that if it didn’t pass before 1980, Reagan would come in and you wouldn’t ever set aside nearly as much wilderness and park lands,” Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, said in a 1995 interview.
The two were hung in effigy around the state.
Andrus worked closely with Rep. Mo Udall, D-Ariz., to finally pass a bill protecting 104.3 million acres, including 12 new parks, 56 million acres of wilderness, 25 wild and scenic rivers, and 11 new national wildlife refuges.
“You’ll never adopt anything like that again,” Nelson said.
Andrus also shepherded through a landmark mining reclamation law, a progressive oil leasing program, and programs to protect wetlands, wildlife and fish. In Idaho, he withdrew lands along the Snake River for what is now the Morley Nelson Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. Bills to protect the Gospel Hump and Frank Church-River of No Return wilderness areas were passed with Andrus’ support and active lobbying.
Andrus as governor
Idaho was one of the only states that did not require kindergarten when Andrus first ran for governor. He introduced bills for a statewide, publicly funded kindergarten program every year of that first term. The Legislature finally approved the idea in 1975, choosing to make the program optional.
When Andrus ran again in 1986, he made education funding the centerpiece of his campaign and shamed Republican lawmakers into a bidding war to increase school funding that continued until he left office in 1994.
The West Ada School District honored his educational record with Cecil D. Andrus Elementary School in 1997.
The NRA got involved in the 1986 campaign, lobbying against Andrus — an avid hunter and gun owner. In response, he dubbed them “the gun nuts of the world,” an exchange that drew national attention.
He was re-elected to his fourth term as governor in 1990, the same year he vetoed what at the time would have been America’s most restrictive anti-abortion law. Andrus had opposed abortion except in cases of rape, incest and when a mother’s life was threatened, but said of the bill: “When I consider what is best for Idaho, I must consider my own views and the needs of Idaho. This bill satisfies neither.”
In 1991, Andrus the hunter made headlines again, this time for being kicked by a mule.
Dick Meiers first met Andrus in 1967 when the latter moved to Boise after his loss for governor. They shared a love of hunting, and their friendship picked up in 1979 when Andrus joined him in elk camp. For the next 20 years they hunted together, shooting elk in all but two years.
“We were away from phones and work. Cecil was the cook,” Meiers said. “No matter who was in camp or who he was around he was always the same. As far as Cecil was concerned ... he wasn’t Interior secretary, he wasn’t governor, he was just Cece.”
It was on one of these these trips that Andrus brought a mule named Ruthie. He shot an elk and they returned up the hill to field dress it. Andrus, who still had blood on his hands, grabbed the halter to load up Ruthie.
She didn’t like blood and reared up and struck Andrus in the face with her forefoot. Meiers was hit in the forehead.
Andrus tumbled down the hill against a tree. He had a gash from the center of his forehead to his left eye, a broken nose, a fractured skull and was bleeding. Meiers was unconscious and bleeding badly. Andrus made a compress from a shirt to stop his bleeding.
When Meiers woke up he kept repeating, “What happened?”
“Cece said, ‘We gotta get outta here,’ ” Meiers said.
They walked down to camp and called the state police on the radio. EMTs met them at the trailhead.
There’s no doubt he took charge,” Meiers said. “If he hadn’t I’d have been wandering around the woods all night.”
When the news got out his political opponents were asked to react. “Hell, when I found out he was kicked in the head I knew he’d be all right,” said then-Republican Sen. Steve Symms.
Legacy built on wilderness, nuclear cleanup
One problem dogging Andrus from his first days in the governor’s office was nuclear waste at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. In 1970, he learned that the Atomic Energy Commission, the Department of Energy’s predecessor, had haphazardly buried low-level but long-lived nuclear waste at the lab near Idaho Falls.
Andrus balked at the practice and won a pledge from Atomic Energy Commission chairwoman Dixie Lee Ray that the waste would be removed. That pledge forced federal officials to design and build the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a nuclear waste repository, in Carlsbad, N.M. When Andrus returned to the governor’s chair in 1986, the pilot plant still had not opened and waste continued to pile up at the Idaho lab, shipped from other DOE plants nationwide.
In 1988, Andrus and press secretary Marc Johnson toured the Carlsbad waste plant. Andrus and Johnson were impressed with the engineering that would embed the waste in stable salt deposits for thousands of years. Andrus also was convinced, Johnson said, that politics and a lack of leadership would prevent DOE from ever opening the repository.
“On the airplane he looked over at me and said: ‘I think I’m going to tell the federal government they can’t bring any more waste into Idaho,’ ” Johnson recalled.
Johnson started rattling off all the reasons he couldn’t do it. “He knew all the arguments against it and he also could see five or six steps down the road,” Johnson said. “He knew it would get increased leverage for environmental cleanup dollars at (INL).”
The next day Johnson and Andrus told Energy Secretary John Herrington that Idaho was off-limits to nuclear waste generated by federal agencies. A few days later, Andrus and nuclear waste were on the front page of The New York Times.
The result: Millions of dollars were allocated to the Idaho facility in the late 1980s and early 1990s to satisfy commitments made by DOE to Andrus, who limited the waste Idaho would take. When the issue went to court in 1991, to everyone’s surprise, Idaho and Andrus won, forcing the federal government to study alternative sites and to complete a full environmental impact statement of waste storage at the lab.
Republican Gov. Phil Batt followed Andrus in office and reached a permanent agreement in 1995 with the DOE that set a schedule for digging up and removing the waste. All of it is required to be removed by 2035. Andrus joined Batt in successfully defending the agreement before voters, and the two have stood behind it ever since — including the current dispute over the DOE’s inability to meet deadlines for removing liquid waste and the same long-lived, low-level waste that started Andrus’ fight in 1970.
Andrus remained an active hunter, angler, conservationist and Democrat. In February 2008 he introduced candidate Barack Obama to an overflow crowd of 15,000 people in and around Taco Bell Arena. The scene was shown repeatedly on television as proof of red-state support for the future president.
He met Obama again in January 2015 at BSU, urging him to make the Boulder-White Clouds a national monument using the 1906 Antiquities Act if Simpson’s wilderness bill did not pass. That possibility helped to motivate Congress, and Obama signed the wilderness bill into law on Aug. 7, 2015, creating three areas totaling 275,000 acres, including Castle Peak.
Andrus’ final public appearances that didn’t involve the nuclear agreement often highlighted the new wilderness. He celebrated with Simpson and Rick Johnson, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League, in December 2016 when they received Boise City Club’s Stimpson Award for Civic Engagement for their Boulder-White Clouds work. At one of his final public programs, he and Simpson bumped fists in March to celebrate the final protection of the mountain and the landscape that made him governor.
Andrus is survived by his wife, Carol; by daughters Tana, Tracy and Kelly; and by grandchildren Monica, Morgan and Andrew, and great-granddaughter Casey.
Idaho’s nuclear waste: A problem we’re leaving to our children
Cecil Andrus wrote this guest opinion for the Statesman on Jan. 12, 2017.
By Cecil Andrus
Since the 1950s the Department of Energy (and predecessor agencies) has been “storing” highly radioactive material — spent nuclear fuel (SNF) — from the nuclear Navy at the Idaho National Laboratory. As a result Idaho has played a central role in keeping aircraft carriers, submarines and other ships on the high seas, enhancing our national security. No other state has played a bigger role.
The original decision to accumulate hundreds of tons of highly radioactive waste in Idaho was driven by a desire, as an admiral once told me, to keep the material out of sight and out of mind. A remote location in a state with a small population was ideal, the admiral said.
The Energy Department recently completed work on the environmental impact statement (EIS) needed to construct a new storage facility for SNF, thereby ensuring the waste will continue to come. The $1.6 billion project will create 360 construction jobs and obviously brings benefits to the local economy. I certainly understand the difficulty of resisting a $1.6 billion project, but by accepting DOE’s plans Idaho has acquiesced to accepting — potentially permanently — significant additional amounts of highly radioactive waste piled on the tons that have accumulated over the last 60 years.
In exchange for the temporary construction jobs at INL here is what Idaho gets, and I’ll quote DOE’s own language. Infrastructure will be created “to ensure the long-term capability of the [Navy program] to support naval spent nuclear fuel handling for at least the next 40 years.” The decision allows DOE “to unload, transfer, prepare, and package naval spent nuclear fuel for disposal (emphasis added)...” until ... “at least 2060.”
There is perhaps no better illustration of the abject failure of the nation’s nuclear waste management efforts than the accumulation of vast amounts of spent nuclear fuel in Idaho, a situation I continue to believe most Idahoans find unacceptable.
By one measure Idaho currently hosts 308 metric tons of SNF from the Navy, foreign and domestic research reactors, commercial reactors and the debris from the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. This includes 900,000 gallons of particularly dangerous liquid waste that remains untreated and buried in 50-year old tanks. The waste is perched above one of the largest fresh water aquifers in the world.
The unspoken decision to make Idaho a disposal site was thrust upon the state in the 1950s and perpetuated for generations because of the stunning failure by administrations of both political parties to create a permanent disposal site. DOE officials speak often of a “permanent” disposal facility outside of Idaho, but the sad truth is there is no permanent site and under even the best case there won’t be one for years. Meanwhile, Idaho continues to assume the risks of having the waste here.
The only protection we have against the waste remaining indefinitely in Idaho is Gov. Phil Batt’s 1995 agreement mandating removal of all this material by 2035. DOE’s admission in the recent EIS that it is expecting to keep high-level waste in Idaho long beyond that deadline makes it absolutely essential that state officials vigorously enforce the Batt agreement, in federal court if necessary.
While it is true that Idaho has enjoyed economic benefits from its relationship with the Department of Energy, it is also true that we never agreed to become a waste “disposal” site.
In fact, if the decision were left to Idahoans I don’t believe we would ever permit the state to effectively become a high-level nuclear waste disposal site, but the sad reality is that through neglect and incompetence, the federal government has essentially created just such a site in Idaho. Our children will likely be living with that reality long after many of us are gone.
Cecil D. Andrus was elected governor of Idaho four times. He also served as Interior secretary.