A North Idaho legislator is trying to eliminate discord in the political task of cleansing Idaho’s waters by eliminating some of the players.
Rep. John Campbell, R-Sandpoint, is sponsoring a bill to exclude anyone at legal odds with the state of Idaho from participating in official groups working to restore water quality.
That means members of certain Indian tribes and environmental groups could be asked to step down from their participation in developing cleanup plans and bull trout restoration plans around the state. Other interest groups could be excluded, too.
“It’s so broad, it could apply to almost anybody,” said Ruth Watkins, who chairs the Panhandle Basin Advisory Group.
The proposal is broad and controversial enough that the chairman of the House Resources and Conservation Committee has asked for an attorney general’s opinion on it before scheduling it for a hearing.
The advisory groups were formed by the Legislature in 1995 in response to a lawsuit filed by the Idaho Conservation League and the Idaho Sporting Congress.
The environmental groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to force Idaho to comply with the federal Clean Water Act. Federal Judge William Dwyer ruled that the state was moving too slowly to clean up its polluted streams and gave the state a deadline to develop plans for the streams.
The Legislature formed the advisory groups to come up with the plans. Gov. Phil Batt later gave the groups the additional responsibility of carrying out his Bull Trout recovery plan.
If the bill passes, Idaho Conservation League representatives Scott Brown and Mark Solomon could lose their seats on Southwest and Clearwater basin advisory groups respectively.
Members of the Selkirk Priest Basin Association, which has sued the state, could lose their seats on watershed advisory groups for Priest Lake and Lake Pend Oreille. And the Coeur d’Alene Tribe could be excluded because of the tribe’s lawsuit against the state over ownership of Lake Coeur d’Alene.
“It ought to be a free marketplace for ideas,” Brown said. “To exclude people because of…their legal history with the state of Idaho is not a productive way to go about solving these issues.”
Campbell was unavailable Monday, but earlier he claimed members of the environmental group Alliance for the Wild Rockies were participating on an advisory group after it sued the state over water quality problems.
Campbell serves on the Panhandle Basin Advisory Group, representing water recreation interests. Liz Sedler, a member of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, represents environmental interests on the board.
Sedler said the Alliance hasn’t sued the state of Idaho.
“He wants to eliminate conservationists from this process,” Sedler said. “The whole thing doesn’t pass the laugh test.”
Although she hasn’t made up her mind on the bill, Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, isn’t laughing. Keough sits on the Pend Oreille Bull Trout watershed advisory group.
“I understand the frustration,” she said. “There are concerns that the polarized extremes of our natural resource debates have a vested interest in keeping the debates continued.”