located IN the Pacific Northwest, Idaho, the 13 th largest state in the United States, is also one of the fastest-growing states. Famous for its potato crop, it is an important agricultural state, producing one-third of the potatoes grown in the United States. Manufacturing, particularly electronics manufacturing, and tourism are also major contributors to Idaho's economy, which, according to some sources, is the fastest growing economy in the nation. Perhaps because the state's energy consumption is relatively low (40th among the 50 states) and because it once produced more than 80 percent of its power through hydroelectric facilities, Idaho has been slow to confront climate change and its effects. In 2007, however, the state took a number of significant steps to become more environmentally responsible.
Such reluctance to act seems incongruous for a state that dates its environmental activism to 1897 when President Grover Cleveland established the Bitterroot Forest Preserve, encompassing much of the northern region. More than three decades later, the U.S. Forest Service declared more than three million acres of Idaho's forestland primitive areas. In the 1960s, Idaho Senator Frank Church sponsored the bill that created the National Wilderness System, which now contains most of the primitive areas set aside in the 1930s. Federal legislation was introduced in 2007 that could erode the protection of the wilderness areas and decrease carbon sequestration.
Some experts argue that climate change has already increased the number and extent of forest fires and reduced hydroelectric generation in Idaho. One regional climate model shows that Idaho may experience a 4-5 degree F increase in temperatures, bringing warmer, wetter winters and slightly hotter summers and may face a snow pack reduction of approximately 30 percent. For a state that depends on an abundant water supply for its hydropower plants, irrigation, and fisheries as well as regular use, such a scenario is ominous. Agricultural production in the state accounts for $2.8 billion each year. Well over half of this comes from crops, and nearly 70 percent of farms are irrigated. The predicted climate change could increase production of some crops, but potato production could fall by 18 percent. Water shortages could intensify damages.
Idaho's legislature approved the formation of a Carbon Sequestration Advisory Committee in 2002 to explore a new means of revenue for the state's farmers through sequestration sales to carbon dioxide producers as an effort to address greenhouse gas emissions. Idaho ranks 47th among the 50 states in its carbon dioxide emissions, but this low ranking fails to account for the 42 percent of the state's power that comes from power produced by coal-burning plants in nearby states. Once emissions from the transportation sector are added, almost 80 percent of energy consumed in Idaho is produced by fossil fuels. Despite these data, Idaho has been tardy in working within the state and in allying itself with regional and national groups to address greenhouse gas emissions. The state is not a member of the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative, a collaboration among six western states and two Canadian provinces to reduce emissions. It was only in summer 2007 that Idaho joined the Climate Registry, a multi-state effort to provide accurate data on greenhouse gas emissions to support reduction policies. Idaho has yet to develop a climate action plan, and a legislative attempt to require energy efficiency standards in construction of public buildings failed to move out of committee.
In 2006, the state legislature created the Legislative Council Interim Committee on Energy, Environment and Technology and charged the committee with developing an integrated state energy plan. A year later, the legislature renewed this committee. In 2007, further legislation cleared the way for wind farms on state endowment lands. The 2007 legislature also passed an act adopting the integrated Idaho Energy Plan developed by the Legislative Council's interim Committee on Energy, Environment, and Technology. This plan, the first state energy plan since 1980, encouraged greater reliance on renewable energy sources in place of dependence on fossil fuels and hydroelectric power.
Also, in 2007, Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter signed two executive orders that suggest a new commitment to action. The first established the Idaho 25 x 25 Renewable Energy Council, a group given the responsibility of developing coordinated programs to buttress the 25 x 25 Initiative for the state's agricultural and forestry sectors. The goal is for renewable sources to provide 25 percent of the state energy's requirements by 2025. The second executive order made the director of the Department of Environmental Quality the central point of contact for all greenhouse gas reduction programs and gave the director the authority to develop a greenhouse gas emission inventory and to recommend methods for reducing the state's emissions. The Department of Environmental Quality is the state's regulatory agency, responsible for enforcing state environmental regulations and administering federal environmental protection laws including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Idaho is also home to the Idaho National Laboratory IINL), an 890 sq. mi. (2,305 sq. km.) U.S. government reservation, established in 1949 as the Nuclear Reactor Testing Center. In the more than five decades since its creation, the INL has extended its focus to encompass research and development in biotechnology, energy, and materials research, and conservation and renewable energy. In 2005, a separate unit, the Idaho Cleanup Project, was established to clean up previously contaminated sites and protect the Snake River Aquifer that provides drinking water for more than 300,000 Idahoans. The most recent extension of INL is the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, a $14-million facility that Idaho will be engaged not only in energy research, but also in a climate change technologies program.
SEE ALSO: Agriculture; Carbon Sequestration; Forests; Idaho State Climate Services.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. Rocky Barker, "Global Warming or Not, Our Climate Is Changing," Idaho Statesman (May 15, 2005); Idaho Conservation League, "Clean Water & Air," www.wildidaho.org (cited November 2007); Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, www.deq.state.id.us (cited
November 2007); Idaho National Laboratory, www.inl.gov (cited November 2007); "Idahoans Coming to Grips with Climate Change," Idaho Statesman (July 31, 2006).
Wylene Rholetter Auburn University
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Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.