BOISE – In his six years in the U.S. Senate, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo has secured millions to help local drinking water systems meet standards, pushed for collaborative approaches to solving prickly environmental issues, and crusaded for men’s health, aid for victims of dating violence and state sovereignty over water management.
Crapo has sponsored 103 bills or amendments, more than a dozen of which passed the Senate, and played key roles in writing such major legislation as the conservation title of the Farm Bill. Though not all of his successful Senate bills passed the House and became law, some of his bills that didn’t pass the Senate directly were later incorporated into other successful legislation.
“It’s a pretty well-balanced record,” said Boise State University political scientist Jim Weatherby. “The issues laid out here are things that Idahoans as well as Americans would identify as major public policy concerns.”
Weatherby noted that Crapo’s long list of sponsored legislation doesn’t include any divisive social issues.
“He can defend this record in terms of defending Idaho interests, and certainly is not open to the charge that he’s involved in grandstanding and pushing a social agenda,” Weatherby said.
That doesn’t mean the issues are without controversy, however. A Spokesman-Review analysis of Crapo’s legislative record showed that the single largest group of bills he introduced involved aid or tax breaks for agriculture, and half of those were to benefit the dairy industry.
Idaho’s dairy industry has been a focus of huge controversy in recent years, as larger and larger mega-dairies in southern Idaho have run afoul of their neighbors by permeating the countryside with putrid odors. The outcry has been heard from county planning offices to the state Capitol, but Idaho Sen. Larry Craig sponsored legislation to exempt dairy waste from federal pollution laws. Though Crapo didn’t co-sponsor the thus-far unsuccessful bill, he quietly supported it.
“Idaho has become one of the top dairy-producing states in the nation in the last decade or so,” Crapo said. “The issue you’re talking about is a state and local issue, to be honest with you. The issues I’ve been working on, frankly, have been the milk pricing issues. … It really becomes a battle over pricing issues and supply and demand.”
Crapo has proposed legislation to extend a pricing program aimed at fighting volatility in milk markets; to make millions in matching payments to dairy producers; to study dairy policy; and to classify animal waste as a renewable energy source. That option, which already is available for poultry waste, would allow dairy operators to use the abundant manure to produce energy, and get favorable tax treatment if they do.The senator said he sees his role in the dairy issue as fighting to promote one of Idaho’s major industries, particularly in the face of regional disputes across the nation over milk pricing and other market issues. “To me, the question of where a community wants to allow different functions in their community is a matter of planning and zoning at the local level,” Crapo said.
Lauren McLean, of the Idaho Conservation League, said, “I guess what you have here is a series of bills that provide taxpayer support for a major polluting industry in Idaho. The taxpayers that live in these communities are affected by these polluters daily, and I doubt that they would believe it’s in their interests to be sending money in the direction of these polluters.”
She said bills should be written instead to give the industry incentives to clean up its practices. “I think Senator Crapo has such an opportunity to lead and to stand up for the public health and the quality of life of his constituents. I’d really like to see that happen.”
Crapo’s other agriculture bills and amendments included exempting potato farming containers from an excise tax, expanding the conservation reserve program, and launching a study of commodity exchange laws.
The senator noted that some of his major committee work – such as his Farm Bill work as a subcommittee chairman – doesn’t show up on his list of sponsored legislation. In addition to the bills and amendments Crapo sponsored himself, he co-sponsored 610 others.
“But I still think this is a pretty good list,” he said, as far as summarizing his legislative focus.
Focus on water rights
After aid to agriculture, the second-largest focus of Crapo-sponsored legislation was water rights, with 11 bills; followed by environment/public lands and transportation, tied with 10 bills each; education, with nine bills; water quality, with eight; health care, seven; and economic development, six. Five of those six economic development bills were for the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory in eastern Idaho.
He introduced three bills or amendments each on seven other topics, and two to protect victims of dating violence. The seven other topics were: the Environmental Protection Agency and Coeur d’Alene basin restoration; international trade; reducing environmental regulation; land sales or trades in Idaho; Social Security; veterans; and ensuring availability of the broadcast spectrum to amateur radio operators.
He also sponsored five health-related proclamations. A survivor of prostate cancer, Crapo has been active in pushing for early identification and treatment of cancers for men and women.
Crapo has repeatedly attempted to introduce a bill giving states full sovereignty over water management, and requiring the federal government to both abide by state laws and pay fees if it participates in state water actions, just like other water rights holders. That was an issue in Idaho’s giant Snake River Adjudication, in which the federal government filed for thousands of water rights, most of which were later denied, but refused to pay filing fees like other applicants.
He acknowledged, “It’s a very controversial bill.”
Sought conservation funding
On environmental and public lands issues, Crapo has sought funding for conservation easements in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, secured increases in environmental management funding for the U.S. Department of Energy, and worked to fund a habitat conservation plan for coldwater fish in Idaho and Montana. He sponsored the Senate version of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act; the House version of the same bill was signed into law.
He said he believes strongly in collaborative decision making, “by which all of the affected interests can come to the table and work out consensus-based solutions.”
That approach has helped Crapo reach out to groups that might be at odds with his voting record and basic stands, Weatherby said. “When you think of Mike Crapo, you think of collaboration,” he said.
On transportation, Crapo has sponsored bills to secure airport development money for small communities and to ensure access to backcountry airstrips on federal land.
Crapo said he’s worked with the Idaho Education Association on a number of education bills, including several targeting education assistance to rural areas and rural teacher recruitment.
Though the teachers’ association often has supported Democrats, Crapo said he reached out to the group when he was president pro-tem of the Idaho Senate.
However, the National Education Association gave Crapo a fairly low rating – 27 percent – in its most recent rating of congressional members’ voting records. Crapo attributed that to typical partisan “gamesmanship,” but noted that the group has endorsed his re-election bid.
Said IEA President Kathy Phelan, “While we’d love to have 100 percent voting on all of our issues, we know that he supports public education, and he supports it in a way that’s consistent with his fiscally conservative views.”
Crapo has made funding for local drinking water systems a legislative focus throughout his term. “Water is so critical in Idaho,” he said. “What we found out is that under the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act, there are mandates that communities must meet for their water quality. Large communities have the population and economies of scale to be able to do this. Small communities face terrible financial burdens, bankrupting-type threats, and they were just getting hammered.”
Crapo sponsored legislation that provided $1 million to small Idaho communities to help with upgrades. It worked so well that he’s trying to expand it nationwide. He got the expansion written into the Farm Bill, but it didn’t get funded.
Expecting the nation’s drinking-water systems to need hundreds of billions worth of upgrades over the coming decades, he’s pushing for big increases in revolving loan programs to help states and communities with the work.
“I believe this is one of the most significant environmental issues we have in our country,” Crapo said. “It’s just a critical issue to the quality of life in America, with our ability to know that when we turn on the tap in our homes, that the water we are drinking is clean.”
Crapo sponsored legislation seeking funding for environmental cleanup in the Coeur d’Alene Basin and two bills regarding the powers of the EPA’s ombudsman, a hot topic in North Idaho, where the controversial basin cleanup is under way.
The 2001 cleanup funding bill would have granted $250 million to the effort. Although it didn’t pass, “that bill was a marker to draw attention to what was going on in the basin, and I think we ultimately succeeded in going back and getting significant local and state involvement in the cleanup process,” said Lindsay Nothern, Crapo’s spokesman.
The ombudsman bills, one in 2002 and another in 2003, passed the Senate at a time when the EPA ombudsman’s investigation of the Coeur d’Alene Basin cleanup was in progress. “It’d be fair to say we really got their attention,” although the bills didn’t become law, Nothern said, and the EPA agreed to give its ombudsman more independence.
Crapo also pushed to eliminate a five-month waiting period for Social Security disability benefits; a bill and a successful amendment to repeal a reduction in military retirement pay for civilian employees of the federal government; and an unsuccessful “lockbox” bill to protect future Social Security funding.Crapo said he thinks his greatest legislative accomplishment has been working to balance the federal budget.
“Although the war and the 9/11 attacks and the economy going into a tailspin have now pushed us out of balance, I’m continuing to focus on that,” he said, “and intend to continue to make it a giant focus of my efforts.”