Climate talk - federalism committee

Russ Hendricks, director of governmental affairs for the Idaho Farm Bureau, speaks to a legislative committee about the trade association’s concerns with President Joe Biden’s climate goals.

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Lobbyists from various Idaho industries, especially those tied to natural resources, on Thursday revealed concerns with President Joe Biden’s proposals to tackle climate change. Those include reducing carbon emissions and conserving 30% of U.S. land and water resources, a noteworthy target in Idaho, where two-thirds of land is already owned by the federal government.

This year, Biden issued a series of executive orders laying out his climate goals and directing administration leaders to pursue them. On Thursday, the Idaho Legislature’s interim Committee on Federalism hosted a discussion on the orders at the State Capitol in Boise. Political leaders of Idaho’s farming, logging, banking and mining industries signaled to legislators their opposition to regulations that may come.

Among Biden’s targets are energy decarbonization and a reduction in greenhouse gases to net-zero economy-wide emissions by mid-century or earlier.

Russ Hendricks, director of governmental affairs for the Idaho Farm Bureau, said, if climate regulations aren’t “economically feasible,” food security may decline, and small farmers will be hit hardest. Agriculture accounts for about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

“If regulations are what is required to get us where we think we need to go, that’s going to increase costs,” Hendricks said. “That’s just a given, for both the producers and the consumers.”

But Biden’s orders are sparse on implementation details; “We’re kind of in a wait-and-see mode,” said Ben Davenport, executive vice president of the Idaho Mining Association. It’s unclear how the mining industry will be impacted, but transportation costs would increase as a result of decarbonization and net-zero emissions policies, Davenport said.

“There’s certainly no question that they will have significant impacts to the costs associated with mineral production, which, as you know, is the first link in the supply chain for most items used in our society,” he said. “We’re going to be paying more for products because of transportation costs.”

Another anticipated element of Biden Administration climate policy is an investment standard known as environmental, social and governance (ESG), said Trent Wright, president and CEO of the Idaho Bankers Association. ESG is an investment tool used to screen firms based on their social and environmental consciousness and drive businesses to lower their emissions.

Davenport said miners aren’t concerned about ESG, because — despite a legacy of poor environmental stewardship — mining companies today have implemented environmentally conscious practices — a result of government regulation as well as investor and customer demands.

However, “ESG challenges lie ahead,” Wright said. As policy makers focus on ESG issues, the “potential arises for inappropriate government intervention into banks’ and business’ decisions and board governance,” he said.

For example, banks could be required to disclose environmental and social factors within lending and investment portfolios, “in an effort to limit or regulate that lending and investment,” Wright said.

Meanwhile, others are on edge about the potential of the federal government claiming additional land for conservation, although it’s unclear whether that is the intention. An initiative outlined in Biden’s January executive order, known as “30 by 30,” directed cabinet members to devise a plan to conserve 30% of U.S. land and water by 2030.

Dustin Miller, director of the Idaho Department of Lands, said he’s unsure how the presidential administration will define “conservation.”

“While the initiative does speak to the importance of restoring forests to a more resilient condition, which may in turn create jobs and reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire, there are still too many unknowns with this initiative,” Miller said. “The devil is in the details.”

Shawn Keough, a former legislator who now heads Associated Logging Contractors, said her trade association will not support federal policies that reduce active forest management or drive up insurance costs for logging companies. She also noted that 80% of Idaho’s more than 21 million acres of forest land is held by the federal government.

“How much is enough?” Keough said. “In short, we are skeptical of the need for the federal government to increase land ownership or (the) addition of further regulatory hurdles to do our part to care for the land.”

After the presentations, Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, bemoaned a lack of “real science” education in schools, which led to outdated perceptions of natural resource industries.

“I learned that all new money comes from the ground. Think about that,” Boyle said. “It’s either mined or it’s grown. Ranching, logging, farming and mining, those are our vital industries for America and for our security and we’re watching them slip away … I’m always proud of our Idaho lobbyists for the resources industries because they are not afraid to come to us and speak the truth.”

Ryan Suppe is the Boise City Hall and Treasure Valley business reporter for the Idaho Press. Contact him at 208-344-2055 (ext. 3038). Follow him on Twitter @salsuppe.

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