Month: November 2016


Once again inhabitants of the pacific northwest’s Columbia River basin are being put through an “examine your belly button” exercise regarding the future of the four Lower Snake River dams and their adverse impact upon migrating salmon and steelhead.

This is the fourth time a Federal District judge has ordered the Bonneville Power Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation; and, NOAA Fisheries to go back to the drawing board.

The flaw the court finds is the inadequacy of the agencies examination of the “remove the four dams” option. A team from those agencies spends years and millions of dollars developing a “BIOP” or the biological opinion on operation of the dams and the consequent environmental impact.

When the judge agrees with plaintiffs, again, almost always lead by a contingent of fish and wildlife adherents, such as Save Our Salmon and the National Wildlife Federation, he finds the biological opinion to be insufficient. This time, though, the judge added a twist saying the EIS also had to be redone because the previous one, started in the 90’s was clearly outdated.

Federal agencies have become “sophisticated” about public input to the process required by law. Rather than hold a formal hearing they have adopted the “information session” model. One is told that for several hours an “open house” will be held and the public is invited to see static displays. Unfortunately, these displays seldom say one word about why an EIS is underway nor is there any admission regarding their defeat in the court.

This column has two recommendations to the agencies:

(1) Expand the BIOP and EIS task force by providing a seat at the table to Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service and to the EPA. It is a no brainer that adding the agencies which have expertise in environmental law will ensure a better more complete analysis. To date they have been excluded.

(2) Have a section that examines options for paying for dam removal if ordered by the court. An often heard refrain is even if a court orders the four dams breached Congress will never appropriate the funds. That’s probably correct. Are there other ways to obtain the funding? Yes.

Congress passes legislation that mandates the BPA to accelerate the pay-off of the Federal debt it owes to the Treasury for the construction costs of the Federal Base System (the dams). The legislation mandates the FBS be sold to the four northwest states for a reasonable price. The four states reincorporate BPA with the Northwest Power Planning Council becoming the board of directors. The new entity is to work out a lease agreement with the Army Corps and the Bureau of Reclamation to continue operating the dams with the excess revenue from power sales beyond standard costs of operation and maintenance for the dams and upgrades on transmission lines being distributed to the four states on the basis of population.

This could bring new revenue to these states in the billions of dollars. It would facilitate investing in new infrastructure and help cover the costs of the states’expanding needs without any new tax increases. A small portion of the excess revenue would be diverted to a fund that would be drawn upon to pay for breaching the dams.

Far-fetched? Not really. BPA’s outstanding debt right now is $15.2 billion. Last year, BPA made a higher than average payment to the Treasury of $1.9 billion. In earlier years payment on principal and interest had been approximately $1 billion, but over the last three years BPA has made higher than average payments.

The average interest BPA calculates and includes is 5.11%. The $15.2 billion includes both non-federal debt (which has a priority) and the federal debt. On the surface then, accelerating the debt repayment and then selling the system back to the region looks doable. BPA could help the proposed process by renegotiating the interest rate given that home loan mortgage rates are currently hovering around 3%.

BPA could also drop out of its “o and m” costs the massive subsidies that undergird supposed efforts to restore salmon and steelhead fisheries. To some, items like “the Columbia Basin Accords” look like nothing less than legal bribery – payments to fish and wildlife agencies and tribes not to talk about breaching the four lower Snake dams through 2018.

BPA officials will argue that for years they have been operating on a plan which would never have them paying off the debt completely primarily because they do crank so many other costs into the budget and are constantly reinvesting in system upgrades.

More than anything agency chiefs and the region’s political leadership have to recognize where there’s a will there’s a way. For too long too many have just paid lip service to the law’s requirement that the fish runs be restored. Creative thinking has to be undertaken, collective will has to be established and the dams breached. This proposal could be a win/win for all and achieve removal of the four lower Snake dams without using taxpayer money.

Does anyone have a better idea?



While certain businesses in Idaho have always been deeply involved in politics and public policy – Idaho Power, Simplot, Boise/Cascade, Avista, Union Pacific, Micron, Hewlett-Packard, Monsanto, to name a few – the recent election cycle has seen more involvement by more Idaho businesses than ever before.

In several instances this has not been helpful to the public good, but in one instance it clearly has. Starting with the positive is the effort being put forward by a group called Idaho Business for Education.

Headed by Rod Gramer, a former reporter for the Idaho Statesman, and a long-time director of public and political affairs for two television stations, Boise’s KTVB and Portland’s KGW, this group has expanded rapidly under his leadership. When Gramer first accepted the position there were only 27 members. Today there are over 160.

Gramer was lured home from Florida by Skip Oppenheimer, a well-to-do community business leader who has long harbored concerns about growing disparities and slipping standards for many of Idaho’s schools and the children supposedly being prepared to compete in the ever increasingly competitive future job market.

The group does its best to eschew partisanship and seeks to work collaboratively with all the various educationsal interests, from the Board of Education to the Idaho Education Association to the offices of the governor and the superintendent of public instruction.

They seek to be a catalyst for progressive, meaningful reform across the board. While more dollars for teachers and fully funding education’s needs are priorities, they know reform is not just throwing more money at the challenges. Thus, they hve worked closely with Governor Otter’s education reform task force and have embraced most of their recommendations.

Gramer skillfully avoids being baited into saying anything negative about the Legislature, knowing that the 105 “gubernatorial house guests” still have to adopt the group’s recommendations. He politely says the group does not look in the rear view mirror. Instead they look ahead.

IBE members fully embrace a statement first made by former four-term Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus that “the classroom is the engine room on the train that drives the state’s economy.” As a group the IBE members stay relentlessly focused on their core principles of placing the highest priority on best practices which lead to the best outcomes for Idaho students.

They also understand the importance of better pay for teachers and the need to stop the drain-off to nearby states where teachers can be better paid. As business leaders they demand data-driven information and stress the importance of transparency and accountability. Of course, they are keenly aware of staying current with evolving technology as well as constant review to find the best, most effective and efficient systems.

Gramer has been traveling the state in recent months to discuss with members their ambitious agrnda for the 2017 Legislature. This agenda includes the Idaho School Readiness Act which is designed to teach children how to read in kindergarten.

Other measures include the Idaho College Completion Act which will incentivize students to finish college. Idaho ranks near the bottom nationally with high school graduates who actually obtain a college degree.

IBE will also introduce a Idaho Workforce Incentive Act, as well as a program of industry sector grants. Further, they will keep an eye on the previous Legislature’s commmitment to appropriate the next installment of $56 million to improve the Teacher Career Ladder.

This positive stands in marked contrast to two other initiatives Idaho businesses have collectively pursued. The two are self-servng items running counter to the obligation to work for the greatest good for the greatest number.

Led by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, this business group has been funding a misnamed Idaho Citizens for passage of HJR 5 which is nothing less than a pure power grab by business to increase its power over state government by vetoing outright rules and regulations written by agencies charged with implementing new laws.

To their credit, Governor Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden oppose the move. Unfortunately, Lt. Governor Brad Little, in a disturbing kow-tow to business, has chosen to support this effort, as have some Democrat legislators such as Pocatello State Rep. Mark Nye.

Many IACI members also bought into providing financial support to State Senator Curt McKenzie’s campaign for a vacant seat on the Idaho Supreme Court. Robyn Brody, an attorney from Rupert, is (was) clearly the better choice. She was rated much higher by the Idaho bar and no one would ever charge she was bought and paid for by Idaho business.

The irony is that many of the members of IBE are also members of IACI. Thus, some display a split personality and send a mixed message.

One can only conclude that in Idaho the business of business is no longer business, it is sometimes “monkey business” and the people are the real losers.



“A Time to Weep, and a Time to Laugh…..” ……Ecclesiastes 3; 4

In less than a week millions of Americans will trudge to the polls without much enthusiasm, to cast a ballot for one of the two most disliked and flawed nominees in American history, if one is to believe the polls.

To cast a vote for President based on who is the least trustworthy, least honest, least qualified, least divisive is a travesty. It undermines faith in the Democratic process and feeds the forces of selfishness, greed and evil. It prompts some to talk in apocalyptic terms of revolution, civil war and anarchy, especially when one candidate says in advance the outcome is rigged.

Notice the qualifier at the end of the first graph: “if one is to believe the polls.”

This is one long-time political observer who puts little stock in polls. This election is going to be closer than the public has been lead to believe. Here’s why:

1) Fewer voters have landline telephones, especially those under 35. Most carry cell-phones. Because one carries their cell phone regardless of the area code it is difficult for pollsters to obtain a fix on this demographic. It takes longer and it costas more to identify a generic voter pool.

2) A heavier than normal turnout trumps easily a poll prediction. Trump clearly has hit a chord with the disaffected, disenchanted and the diss-all-levels-of-government types, which has resulted in some states having record turnout and a slew of new voters. The lesson to be drawn is enthusiasm and grass root sentiment can trump organizational turn out the vote efforts.

3) All the major polls missed badly on Justin Trudeau’s victory in Canada’s recent parliamentary elections. Pollsters missed badly on how the British voter was going to vote on BREXIT (getting out of the European Union) in large part because the turnout was much higher than historical averages.

4) There’s a prospect that on election day the 10% polls predict nationally for the Libertarian candidate could fade. If just half those voters who say they are voting for former New Mexico Governor Garry Johnson morph into votes for Trump the electoral vote map changes dramatically. Take Ohio. Current polls show a dead heat with 47% for Mrs. Clinton and 46% for Trump. Johnson polls at 5% and Mrs. Stein polls at 2 %. If half of Johnson’s vote switches to Trump he takes Ohio.

5) There’s no way pollsters can guard against the person being polled from lying. Some put this lie factor at 5%. Trump insiders are claiming that there’s a hidden 5% for their guy that will materialize – they may be correct.

6) Regardless of who wins, the Republic will survive. Yes, a President Trump can use his executive authority and sign a variety of decrees that would change the direction of certain policies, but ours is a system of check and balances. Ironically, a President Trump would soon discover he and his agenda inextricably caught up in a war within the Republican party for its soul.

7) Many can recall similar dire predictions issued by the media and liberals when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. He turned out to be a pretty good president.

Personally, despite reservations about her honesty and the character of both she and Slick Willie, I’m still voting for Mrs. Clinton. There’s no substitute for experience, she knows issues inside and out, does her homework and will present a thoughtful, disciplined face to the world.

The presidency, as we should know from watching President Obama take six years to master the job, is no place for on the job training.

There are two other more than qualified women on the ballot readers should support. The first is Kathy Kraack Kahn, a recently retired St. Maries school teacher, and a former student of mine. She is far more qualified and thoughtful than the incumbent and proudly calls herself an Andrus Democrat. Cece has of course endorsed her.

The second is Robyn Brody who is seeking a vacant seat on the State Supreme Court. The Idaho Bar judged her to be far more qualified than her opponent, Senator Curt McKenzie. He has shamelessly tried to play up his Republican credential in a non-partisan race by such stunts as placement of his campaign signs in the cluster of other Republican signs.

Ms. Brody has adhered to the non-partisan requirement though she too is a Republican as she and her husband were Minidoka county co-coordinators for Senator Larry Craig’s last campaign. Shame on McKenzie. I also have to express disappointment in State Senator Shaun Keough, who should be supporting Robyn, but out of traditional loyalty to a senatorial colleague is supporting McKenzie. Election night will see whether I laugh or cry.