House editorial:Protecting Idaho in a possible Fed spending sea change

On Wednesday in Boise, the largest crowd of the year — approximately 650 people — gathered in the Statehouse to hear testimony on how climate change could affect industry in the state of Idaho.

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise told reporters it had been made abundantly clear by the new presidential administration that environmental issues were going to spend the next four years on the backburner and that the duty of protecting the environment would likely fall upon states.

Then, on Wednesday night, Pres. Donald Trump released his budget proposal, making Rubels’s comments seem almost prescient. Trump would like to see 31 percent cut from the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and a 5 percent reduction from the Department of Energy — specifically from programs in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Also specially targeted is the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which funds research in biofuels and batteries.

As members of our congressional delegation pointed out in prepared statements, the president’s proposed changes are just a starting point since Congress makes the final call on allocations.

While it’s so far unclear how the first federal budget under Pres. Trump will shake out, what is clear is that now the real work for our congressmen and senators — protecting Idaho interests in what may become a major federal budgeting sea change — begins.

Rest assured U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson — a member of the House Appropriations Committee — is in a helpful spot. Simpson has shown his skill in protecting the Idaho’s — including the INL’s interests in the past — back when it was known as the the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

Compared to some of the budgets put forth by the George W. Bush administration — well, there’s not much of a comparison. Not yet anyway.

In 2004, the Post Register editorial board wrote, “The Bush administration’s proposed Fiscal Year 2005 DOE budget treats the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory like the stepsister in the DOE complex.”

In February of that year, Simpson and former Idaho Senator Larry Craig, came out swinging against a budget cut that would have cost the INL millions. That month, they published in the Post Register an op-ed expressing their frustration with the Bush Administration’s unfulfilled promises and some downright sneakiness, including slashing vital seed money for research by $15 to $20 million with the stroke of a pen during budget negotiations.

By June of 2004, the work of Simpson and Craig had turned the tables by talking the DOE into reframing the INEEL into the world’s premier nuclear energy researcher, a move that has sustained and built Idaho’s National Lab into what it is today — a major economic driver for the state and eastern Idaho.

With contractor Battelle’s skilled pivot to focusing on cyber security, infrastructure security and continued nuclear innovation, the proposed budget could actually end up being a slight benefit to major portions of the lab’s work, especially if the state agrees to two proposed construction project, bringing supercomputing and more highly-skilled, highly-specialized education opportunities to our region — and the nation.

Most interesting to watch could be the moves made by U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador. Buzz has been building over the course of the past year about a possible run for governor. A member of the Freedom Caucus, his defense of Idaho interests in a potential upcoming federal budget sea change in our state’s economy and here eastern Idaho will certainly play a role in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

In any case, with a shifting federal focus regarding the environment, the state should also step in and protect Idaho, and not just by instituting more incentives to limit carbon emissions and promote energy efficiency.

Regarding the federal budget, there’s one big way the state could protect the continued health of our economy. The bond resolution for building two next generation-level compounds in Idaho Falls passed unanimously in the Idaho Senate. But it’s currently still in a House Committee with only a few days left in the session. If it stays there, it dies.

With so much uncertainty regarding the federal budget, the Idaho House could make certain our state is ready for the certain coming changes to the way our nation spends.

Katie Stokes is the Commentary page editor. Email her at kstokes@postregister.com.


Katie Stokes is the Commentary page editor. Email her at kstokes@postregister.com.