BOISE – The Idaho House has agreed unanimously to dump the bill attempting to nullify the EPA’s regulatory authority in the state, acknowledging the bill is “very likely unconstitutional.”
House Resources Committee Chairman Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said, “I think that having this bill in front of us shows the level of frustration that many of our constituents have and feel about not only the EPA, but many of the federal agencies as well.” He said, “I believe that HB 473 does perhaps try to go too far and is very likely unconstitutional as written.”
Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, proposed the bill after concerns from suction dredge miners in his area who have been required to get a new EPA permit since last spring. The Environmental Protection Agency said it didn’t want to ban the practice in Idaho, as has happened in Oregon and California, and instead sought to regulate it to comply with the federal Clean Water Act. More than 80 of the new permits have been issued; they’re good for five years.
But the new EPA permit system doesn’t allow suction dredge mining in areas that include critical habitat for endangered fish, including formerly popular stretches of the Salmon River near Riggins.
Shepherd told the House on Tuesday, “I was warned I better be prepared about the legal problems with this bill, because if we’re going to try and have state authority over federal authority, we’ve run into problems with that before.”
After recounting how he got the House and Senate Resources committees to hold a joint hearing earlier this session to hear the dredge miners’ concerns, and then proposed the bill, Shepherd yielded his time to Denney, saying, “Since there is this legal concern and maybe other issues, I’d like to yield at this time to our chairman of our resources committee.”
Denney said local government officials, including a local sheriff, weren’t consulted when the EPA began requiring a new permit in the Riggins area last spring. “Perhaps a more appropriate bill would have said that new dredge mining regulations would not be enforced until the local government consultation process had been completed,” Denney said, and he asked to return the bill to committee.
No one, including Shepherd, objected to the move, which kills the bill for this year’s legislative session. An Idaho Attorney General’s opinion found that the bill was clearly unconstitutional, calling that conclusion a “certainty.”