Thursday, January 6, 2011

Snake River Alliance: Deal to Send Nuclear Fuel Into Idaho Included No Public Input

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 5:39 PM

In a deal that the Snake River Alliance said, "was crafted without any public input," the State of Idaho has inked an agreement which would see more nuclear fuel shipped into the Gem State.

The deal between Idaho and the U.S. Department of Energy would bring "limited research quantities" of used commercial nuclear fuel to the Idaho National Laboratory.

The Snake River Alliance was contacted Thursday by the DOE and the INL to inform the Alliance of the deal.

"This is the first we had heard of any discussions or negotiations related to the shipment of commercial radioactive fuel into Idaho," Liz Woodruff, policy analyst for the Alliance, told Citydesk. "We will be conducting our own analysis about how this new agreement was reached."

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Does Boise Have Unsafe Levels of Chromium-6? Nobody Knows

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 4:26 PM

A study released in December by the Environmental Working Group found that Chromium-6, colloquially known as "The Erin Brockovich Compound," is far more prevalent in tap water than was previously known. Unsafe levels of the cancer-causing compound were found in 31 of the 35 American cities tested.

Boise is not on that list. But if you look at the map of chromium levels across the U.S., southwest Idaho, especially Canyon County, looks suspiciously like some of the worst effected areas of the nation.

Map of total chromium levels in the U.S.
  • Map of total chromium levels in the U.S.

What the map shows are the total levels of chromium, as reported by government mandated testing. No testing to differentiate levels of Chromium 3 (a benign substance) from Chromium 6, a carcinogen is required. The EWG's study was the first wide-spread attempt to assess the threat. And since Boise wasn't tested, no one actually knows what the speciation would reveal. Only that there's plenty of total chromium locally.

The study was shocking enough that the EPA issued a statement addressing it two days later.

"EPA has already been working to review and incorporate the ground-breaking science referenced in this report," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "However, as a mother and the head of EPA, I am still concerned about the prevalence of chromium-6 in our drinking water."

But that doesn't mean anybody should panic. All parties involved, the EPA, the EWG, the local Department of Environmental Quality and even the Idaho Conservation League, say that this study is only a snapshot, and that without further more widespread testing there isn't enough information to take a firm stance.

But that's certainly information they'd all like to see.

"What this study really underscores is the need to go out and get good information," says Justin Hayes of the Idaho Conservation League. He compared to Idaho's situation with arsenic, in which consistent under-testing allowed unsafe levels to exist in drinking water for years.

"There's a lot of political pressure not to test or to keep the standards the same," says Hawkins. "It's a political hot potato because they've been on the books for so long."

"Idaho simply adopts the federal standards," says Jerri Henry, a drinking water analyst at the Idaho DEQ. "Most states do."

Henry says that safe levels and testing requirements are reevaluated at the federal level every six years and that the state relies on that process to determine big public health issues.

The EPA apparently isn't waiting. Part of Administrator Jackson's address included announcement of plans for new series of resources and assistance in testing and a new round of risk assessment for toxic compounds, all of which she'd discussed thoroughly with key members of the Senate.

"We're expecting new plans from the top anytime," says Henry.

Those plans are likely to include anything from money to new requirements. Henry says that to truly determine risk a study would need far more testing sites over a longer timeline, and that all that cost adds up quickly.

Leeanne Brown, Press Secretary for the EWG quoted the cost of the study at $100 overall, but a local water testing lab put it at $100 a sample.

"It [the EWG study] seemed hasty," says Henry. "But anything that bring drinking water to the forefront and gets people thinking about it is a good thing. It's something we all take for granted."

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State Construction Employment Plummets

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 3:42 PM

With housing starts as a leading economic indicator, Gem State lawmakers heard more sobering statistics Thursday afternoon from Idaho Associated General Contractors.

Construction employment in Idaho during the summer of 2010 totaled 28,800, a decrease of 13.8 percent from June 2009, and a decrease of 46 percent from the state's peak in 2006. The construction industry in Idaho is currently at levels last seen in 1994.


Across the board, total construction spending—more than $800 billion—is down 6 percent from just four years ago. All construction accounted for 6.7 percent of Idaho's gross state product in 1999. It currently is closer to 5 percent.

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Labor Spokesman to Lawmakers: Idaho Lost 2,500 Employers During Recession

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 2:14 PM

Idaho lawmakers got a jarring job report Thursday afternoon at the Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Committee hearing.

"The few job gains we experienced over the last few years were in fits and starts and it simply stalled out last spring," said Bob Fick, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Labor.

The economy shed 50,000 jobs during the recession, and Fick said we shouldn't expect recovery anytime soon. While the official unemployment numbers for December 2010 aren't expected until Friday, Jan. 7, Fick said we shouldn't expect much of a change from the current 9.4 percent jobless rate, only two-tenths lower than record highs in the 1980s.

Fick also reported a startling statistic that isn't reported often-during the recession Idaho experienced a net loss of 2,500 employers, many of them small employers that provide more than half of Idaho's jobs and 44 percent of Idaho's wages.

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It's Good News, Bad News, Modest News at the Economic Outlook Hearing

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 1:44 PM

And so it begins.

A bipartisan committee of Idaho legislators are packed into an auditorium at the State Capitol, poring through stacks of reports and charts in an attempt to forecast the economy. A full agenda faces lawmakers Thursday and Friday, including directors from state agencies in addition to experts from Idaho's private sector.

Up first Thursday afternoon was Derek Santos, economist with Idaho's Division of Financial Management.

"The recession is over," said Santos, getting everyone's attention. "That's the really good news. The recession ended a year and a half ago. The bad news is that it doesn't feel like it."

Santos then referred to his first reference, an analysis of personal income in Idaho. He pointed out that income in Idaho dropped in 2009, the first time in more than a decade. Income remained flat in Fiscal Year 2010, and Santo predicted a "still modest" growth of 3.4 percent for FY 2011 and 2012.

"Usually, when you have any kind of a recovery, housing will lead you out of a recession," said Santos, referring to housing starts.

Housing starts in Idaho decreased a whopping 47 percent in 2009, but bounced back with a modest 8 percent growth in 2010. Santos predicted another drop in FY 2011-18 percent, but then said FY 2012 would experience a 75 percent increase.

"That may seem crazy," cautioned Santos. "But we're really talking about a modest recovery, because that would represent only about 9,000 units."

The job outlook comes next as Bob Fick from the Department of Labor takes the microphone.

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New Book Addresses Perils of Mega-Loads... Sort Of

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 12:49 PM

A new book, The Heart of the Monster, by Rick Bass and David James Duncan, takes on the mega-loads of oil equipment energy behemoth Connoco/Phillips is trying to move through Idaho to the tar-sands of Alberta on Hwy. 12.

The book's thesis is that the real threat comes not from these 200 shipments, but that their approval would establish a permanent corridor for oil shipments through fragile ecosystems and that the numbers game—hauling cargo five times the weight rating for the roads and wider than the highway itself, not once or twice, but consistently and without end—makes it inevitable that something will go horribly awry.

The book is peppered with pictures of just such catastrophes: oil spills, overturned trucks, sickly-looking salmon and more.

Unfortunately, it is also peppered with hippie idealogical masturbation, including poetry about Montana's natural beauty, childhood memories of camping and fishing and some of the author's dreams. That half of the book is a self-described essay/memoir. The second half of the book is a novella telling a fictional account of a Montana in which the shipments are approved.

The statistics and hard data employed to make the Duncan's (the essay/memoirist's) case, are more focused on the perils of oil consumption and the tar sands in general than they are on the direct, specific and measurable impacts of these hauls on the roads and ecosystems in question.

The effect is that the book misses much of its target. Those predisposed to being against the mega-loads may lap it up, but the harder sells, the economic-pragmatists are unlikely to wade through the author's dreams about an oil executive's limousine encountering a naked woman in the middle of the highway.

It's unfortunate, as this book represented an opportunity to inject data that has been sorely underrepresented into the dialog on the issue. Some of that data is present, but it likely would have greater impact as a more concise, hard-data focused booklet than 300 pages of ego-stroking.

The Heart of the Monster is available online at and locally at Rediscovered Bookshop downtown. Proceeds for the book benefit All Against the Haul, a Montana nonprofit working to stop the shipments.

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"Final" Ruling on Mega-Loads Expected in a Few Days

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 9:59 AM

A "final" decision on whether mega-loads can roll across central Idaho is expected sometime next week, though anyone following the melodrama knows that the word "final" has been used before.

Brian Ness, director of the Idaho Transportation Department, is waiting for the formal 14 days to pass since receiving an opinion from hearing officer Merlyn Clark that stated that the ITD was within its boundaries to proceed.


Laird Lucas, of Advocates of the West and an attorney for opponents to the mega-loads, told Citydesk that he expected to file a formal challenge to Clark's opinion.

Meanwhile, ConocoPhillips anxiously awaits an opportunity to move two massive coke drums (divided into four separate loads) from the Port of Lewiston, across U.S. Highway 12, and on to its refinery in Billings, Mont. Already, the issue has been argued before Idaho district court, the Idaho State Supreme Court and twice before Clark in marathon hearings.

Waiting in the wings: ExxonMobil which wants to ship more than 200 mega-loads across the same stretch of Idaho and up to a processing plant at the Kearl Oil Sands of Alberta, Canada.

ExxonMobile Equipment at Port of Lewiston
  • ExxonMobile Equipment at Port of Lewiston

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