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Eye On Boise

Oil, gas industry pressure on counties riles senators as they consider bill…

Several members of the Senate Resources Committee bristled this afternoon over suggestions that the oil and gas industry pressured Idaho counties, saying if they didn't sign on to an industry-proposed compromise, HB 464, they'd lose all local control over oil and gas drilling. Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, asked Kerry Ellen Elliott of the Idaho Association of Counties why the association was willing to give up any local authority over siting of the wells, and only have planning and zoning authority for post-drilling developments. "I'm going to be very blunt," she said. "If we did not compromise on this in some respect, we were not going to have any local control at all. There would have been statewide pre-emption."

Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, said, "I have a concern when we start saying that if we don't sign on, some industry is going to do this. My concern is that sends a message in the public that it's somebody other than the Legislature that's making the laws around here."

When Elliott said, "It was in our counties' interest to work something out in this regard; we wanted 90 or  95 percent of something instead of 100 percent of nothing," Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, retorted, "I think most of us on this committee are in favor of oil and gas drilling, and we probably have been from the get-go. But the way this verbiage is, you have no local control. ... You testified you thought you had control, but the verbiage here ... says you have no control."

There are six oil and gas drilling bills on the committee's agenda this afternoon, but the attention has focused on the first one, HB 464, the industry's controversial state pre-emption bill. So far, a Washington County commissioner, Rick Michael, has testified against the bill, saying, "I am opposed to what is essentially an attack on local control by the oil and gas industry," while a Payette County commissioner, Mark Shigeta, testified in favor of the bill. Larry Lundin of Midvale told the committee he thinks the bill is a "good compromise," and said, "There seems to be a tendency in our county to over-regulate." Mary Sue Roach told the panel, "This takes away my right as a property owner in Washington County to protect my property."

After an hour and a half of testimony, the committee ran out of time; Chairman Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, said the hearing will continue Friday at 1 p.m., and, "We'll stay 'til we get 'er done."

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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