Controversial legislation fast-tracked by the Idaho Petroleum Council through the Idaho Legislature, House Bill 464 faced a gridlock 17 to 17 vote on the Senate floor last Friday, March 9, about whether it should be sent to the Amending order for language changes. This industry-sponsored law would allow state agencies and commissions to pre-empt city and county control of natural gas development and would exempt associated wells from state regulations governing Class II injection wells, thus permitting disposal of hazardous drilling waste such as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) fluids. In an unexpected turn of events, Lieutenant Governor Brad Little cast the deciding vote in favor of revisions (see the Boise Weekly article also on the WIRT website, Senate Deadlocks on Amending Gas Drilling Measure, Lieutenent Governor Casts Tie-Breaker.
Despite the relentless oppositional efforts of Senators Cameron, Stennett, and Werk, whom WIRT contacted about this bill, House Bill 464 passed the Senate on a 24 to 10 vote, without changes from the Amending order this Wednesday morning, March 14, at 10:30 am MDT. Please see Betsy Russell’s Eye on Boise articles, Senate Debating Oil/Gas Bill… and Senate passes oil/gas bill, 24-10. As southern Idaho activist Alma Hasse stated in an email message, “This legislation should be an affront to ALL Idahoans. … It would appear that the oil and gas industry has now occupied a prominent seat in our Idaho Legislature.”
While thousands of Idahoans’ comments to their legislators strongly influenced debate on this bill, special interests again prevailed in Boise. One of House Bill 464’s most adamant proponents, Senator Monte Pearce representing the New Plymouth District 9 area slated for natural gas drilling, never disclosed his egregious conflict of interest and consequent serious ethics violation during two dozen Senate committee and full chamber hearings and votes. Not only has Republican Senator Pearce leased his property to oil and gas companies, he was among several lawmakers who advised county officials to support this legislation or risk total state pre-emption of local authority over industry regulation. Unlike some states that prohibit legislators from casting votes on bills that present conflicts of interest, Idaho delegates can vote after their disclosure of their bias. Because Pearce only revealed his personal interest and benefit in passage of House Bill 464 and five other oil and gas bills just before the final Senate vote but not during earlier floor votes and hearings in the Senate Resources and Environment Committee that he chairs, Senate Democrats have formally requested an ethics investigation and called for his resignation as committee chair. Please see the Boise Weekly article, Senate Democrats Call for Ethics Probe of Sen. Monty Pearce and the Idaho Statesman story Idaho Senate Democrats Ask for Ethics Investigation of Pearce over Oil and Gas Conflict.
Before we utilize the streets, courts, and ballot boxes to remediate yet another dirty energy invasion ushered in by our negligent state leaders, we must fully exercise every possibility for blocking immediately enforceable enactment of this bill. Idaho Fracking Forum panelist Amanda Buchanan is encouraging citizens to hold Governor Otter to his January 5 pronouncements in an Idaho Statesman article, Otter, Denney Say They Don’t Want to Roll over Counties on Gas Drilling, stating that local governments should maintain siting authority not only over oil and gas proposals but on the federal transmission line project.
As a final action through the usually unresponsive channels of state government, please call (208-334-2100), email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or use the Idaho Conservation League form to demand that Governor Otter veto House Bill 464. Remind him that the reasonable members of his party strongly supported language changes that would provide for local control over natural gas facilities siting, specifically through the conditional use permitting process. Also warn the governor of the negative repercussions of his association with Senator Pearce’s ethics violations if he does not veto this legislation. Due to the emergency clause in House Bill 464, Otter’s signature of approval could immediately enact diminished local government control of natural gas operations like fracking, which can often be executed within a month. Payette and Washington county citizens are deliberating options to protect their groundwater, communities, and private property rights: expect fracking ban petitions and county ordinance lawsuits.
(From WIRT Newsletter)