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A Proposed Local Power Grab by the Idaho Legislature

"This is pretty heavy-handed."

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The Idaho Legislature, with a robust history of fighting for local controls and pushing back against federal rules on firearms, wolves and especially health care, is poised to consider an about-face in its 2012 session.

Though the author remains confidential until the bill is presented, Citydesk has obtained a copy of something called DRSBM049, a draft of proposed legislation that would amend 10 sections of Idaho code, stripping away local controls concerning oil and gas exploration and instead centralizing oversight at the state level.

One particular passage of the draft is certain to get the attention of the state's municipalities:

"No city, county or other political subdivision of this state shall enact or adopt any ordinance, rule, resolution, requirement or standard regulating the siting, construction or operation of facilities used in the exploration for, production or transportation of oil and gas that conflicts, either actually or operationally, with any provision of this chapter of the commission."

"The commission" is Idaho's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which up until March hadn't met in more than 18 years. But a geyser of activity in Payette County changed all that. Canadian-based Bridge Resources began grabbing up hundreds of land and mineral leases in preparation for its natural gas drilling-operations in Southwest Idaho. But Bridge's promises of a boom turned into a bust when the company was crippled by a financial mess and a spate of top executive resignations (BW, Feature, "Bridge Under Troubled Waters," Oct. 5, 2011).

Meanwhile the Oil and Gas Commission, comprised of Idaho's statewide elected officers--Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Controller Donna Jones--quickly had to come up to speed on the risks and rewards of gas drilling. On Nov. 15, the commission gave its blessing to a new set of industry rules, even though Lt. Gov. Brad Little, sitting in for Otter, had to recuse himself from voting because he was in negotiations to sign a private contract that could allow gas drilling on his land (BW, Citydesk, "Lt. Gov. Negotiating Private Deal with Gas Drillers, Recuses Himself From Vote," Nov. 15, 2011).

"It's hard to overstate what a significant shift this would be from the way Idaho traditionally allows local communities to have a say in what's going on in their area," said Justin Hayes, program manager for the Idaho Conservation League. "This proposed legislation is pretty heavy handed."

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