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House memorial asks EPA to leave Silver Valley within five years

House memorial asks EPA to leave Silver Valley within five years

Mitch Coffman
February 7, 2012
February 7, 2012

Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, introduced a memorial on Monday that would essentially tell the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take a hike.

Presenting it to the House Environment, Energy & Technology Committee, McMillan said it was time for the EPA to move out of the Silver Valley and “remove the taint of being a Superfund site.”

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, moved to introduce the measure, “Because I think we ought to at least let our delegation back in Washington, D.C., know that Idaho is in favor of this type of thing, and this is probably the only way we can make that encouragement publicly known.”

The committee approved her non-biding resolution, which calls for the EPA to leave the area within five years. There were two negative votes, from Democrats Brian Cronin of Boise and Elaine Smith of Pocatello, and one abstention from a Republican, Erik Simpson of Idaho Falls, who recused himself because he said his work in eastern Idaho involves a Superfund site at the Idaho National Laboratory.

McMillan said that testing of locals’ blood has shown that there is no longer a hazard, “if one even existed.” McMillan said the EPA should also have to restore infrastructure to what it was before the EPA arrived, or even improve it.

She also believes the decisions regarding these measures should be reserved for the state, not the federal government. “The abatement of any alleged local environmental pollution or containment is neither necessary, nor proper to affect the regulation of interstate commerce and is therefore a power reserved to the state or the people of the state of Idaho pursuant to the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution,” she said in presenting her resolution.

The EPA insists it is cleaning up nearly 100 years of mining and smelting problems in the Coeur d'Alene Basin. Superfund sites have been identified as containing hazardous substances, in this case lead.

McMillan said, “There are two kinds of lead there. Lead sulfate, which is not harmful, which is found naturally in the ground up in our area. And lead oxide, which is the byproduct of the smelters. Now the smelters have been removed, so we don't have to really worry about the lead oxide any more.”

Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, vigorously supported the resolution. “They (EPA) want to be there 100 years and we’re trying to negotiate it down. I can tell you, the Silver Valley will not survive another 100 years with the EPA ruling the way they are in the Silver Valley.”

Harwood has not been shy in his distaste for the EPA, telling IdahoReporter.com in April of last year, “I think the EPA is a dirty outfit, a rogue outfit. Under an executive order it only pertains to federal employees, federal buildings, and federal land, federal territories—not the states. The EPA is a bunch of bloodsuckers. I think some of them should be sitting in a jailhouse somewhere,” and he added, “States should be able to do what they want to do. We’ve got to do something. I really believe the EPA is just killing us as a state and a nation.”

Rep. Steve Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, wondered if the state can really take any action to remove the EPA from a Superfund site. McMillan said, “I don't have an answer to that.”

The committee chairman, Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, said he does not think the state has the power to do much with the EPA.  He explained that the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) could, theoretically, develop rules similar to the EPA’s, thus potentially permitting the state to take over jurisdiction for the cleanup in the area. However, he added, “But then Idaho would have to pick up the bill. So at the present time, I don't believe our DEQ would want to tackle that, nor would our finances of the state.”

McMillan introduced a similar measure during the 2011 session. HCR 17 was sent to print, but never made it any further.

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