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Rep. McMillan: ‘You have to start somewheres’

Second-term Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, proposed legislation today to order a halt to all water quality enforcement in the state until the Legislature certifies that a sampling survey has been done of the headwaters of every waterway and tributary, starting with the north and south forks of the Coeur d’Alene River; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. “It’s like the lakes and stuff above the water, where they start,” she told the House Environment Committee. Reading from “talking points” she said a constituent prepared for her, McMillan told the panel, “Requiring that discharge is more pure than a natural background level is an undue burden upon businesses and local governments and is beyond the scope and intent of water quality laws.”

Committee members were taken aback. Among their questions: Why the bill also forbade any temperature restrictions from being imposed on water, and why it had no fiscal note about the cost for the surveys it required. “We feel that the EPA has got enough money that they can do it themselves,” McMillan said.

Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, said he’s sympathetic to McMillan’s concerns about “a localized condition that relates to mineralization and water.” But, he asked, “Why is this bill drafted in a manner that suspends all water quality enforcement statewide?” McMillan replied, “Because I took it up to the legislative services, and this is what they gave me.” Morse asked McMillan, “So you feel that discharge requirements that don’t recognize that natural mineralization in the water are unfair as a matter of water quality measurement, is that correct?” “Yes,” she replied. “But that’s not what this bill says, is it?” Morse asked. McMillan said, “In a way it does, because you have to start somewheres. And it does say, of the north and south forks of the Coeur d’Alene River.”

The committee voted overwhelmingly against introducing the bill, instead returning it to McMillan. Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, said he favored introducing the measure despite its problems, just to get discussion going at a hearing, but he got little support.

After the meeting, McMillan said a constituent brought the issue to her and wrote up the bill for her. Asked who it was, she said she didn’t have his name. “It’s been on our minds for a long time,” she said. “One of ‘em wrote it up for me and I took it to the Legislature and got it written into a bill.”

Asked why she wanted the bill to suspend all water quality enforcement in the state until the surveys she called for were completed, McMillan said, “I didn’t want it to do that.” When that line in her bill was pointed out, she said, “But if it does that, that’s good. Because the people have the right to where their water is. They have the right to take the water out of their water tap and pour it into the river, if they want.”

Earlier today, McMillan, who suffered a stroke in 2012, was carrying a controversial bill in the House on easing testing requirements for chronic wasting disease on farmed elk. When House members, amid a vigorous debate on the measure, asked her questions about the bill, she couldn’t answer them. House Speaker Scott Bedke suggested that the House Agriculture Committee chairman, Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, field the questions, and he did. After much debate, that bill passed on a 42-27 vote with bipartisan opposition, and now heads to the Senate.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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