BOISE – An Idaho House committee passed a bill Thursday to attempt to nullify the federal Environmental Protection Agency in the state, though the state attorney general says the measure is unconstitutional.
“I don’t happen to agree” with the attorney general, said bill sponsor Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins.
Shepherd proposed the bill because of concerns from suction dredge miners who don’t like a new EPA permit that’s been required for such mining in Idaho since last spring.
Dozens of suction dredge mining enthusiasts testified at a House Resources Committee hearing on Thursday afternoon. Some railed against “environmental fruitcakes” and called the agency “tyrannical.”
The bill, HB 473, is now headed to the full Idaho House for debate, though its ultimate fate is uncertain. It declares the EPA’s regulation authority “null and void and of no force and effect in this state.”
Shepherd, a fifth-term lawmaker who seldom proposes legislation, has vehemently championed the bill. “I say to the attorney general, even though he’s a lawyer and I’m not, that I’m right – because the laymen wrote the Constitution,” he said after the committee meeting.
Shepherd introduced his bill in early February, pushing it more than a month until it moved from the House State Affairs Committee to the House Resources Committee, where Chairman Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, agreed to schedule a hearing.
Shepherd noted that it’s late in the session – lawmakers are hoping to finish next week. “We’re lucky to even have this hearing,” he said. “I can’t tell you what’s going to happen now.”
No one testified against the bill, but 76 people signed in at the committee hearing in support. After dozens testified, the committee approved the measure on a voice vote with no discussion.
Shepherd said the EPA shouldn’t be requiring the same permit for dredge miners as for those who discharge pollutants into waterways, because the dredgers just put the same sand and gravel back into the water that they took out.
Jim Werntz, Idaho director for the EPA, said the agency chose to try to regulate suction dredge mining in Idaho rather than just shut it down, as happened in California and Oregon. More than 80 of the new permits, good for five years, have been issued. But, he said, “Where there were species issues or protected waters or wild and scenic waters, those waters were protected and closed.”
That included popular areas along the main and lower Salmon River near Riggins, where critical habitat for salmon and steelhead prompted closures to dredging.