Two bills intended to restrict mining have been relegated to a form of legislative purgatory. For the first time in several years, the Senate leadership has assigned two bills to the Environmental Common Sense Task Force, a little-understood group.
Both measures come from Sen. John Andreason, a Boise Republican. His bills are attempts to restrict mining activities that require extensive water treatment after the mining is over.
"The cost of treating water into perpetuity is very expensive," Andreason told fellow lawmakers last week. "Taxpayers end up paying to clean up the mess left by others."
Of his two bills, one was stronger than the other. Andreason said he was approached by the Idaho Conservation League with a bill that increases Idaho's bonding requirement for mining companies looking for permits to mine. The other one was an outright ban on new mining activities that would require the need for "perpetual water treatment."
Andreason expected one of the two to get printed for committee review. But he was surprised to hear them both get approved for printing, then shunted to the little-known task force.
The move, which was requested by Sen. Gary Schroeder, a Moscow Republican who is the chairman of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee, effectively kills the bills for now, but opens the door to possibilities next year.
"Sometimes it's better to sit down and talk about some issues than stand in a committee and fight about them," Schroeder said.
The committee has six legislative members, according to Senate President Bob Geddes, a Soda Springs Republican. Sen. Curt McKenzie, a Nampa Republican, will be the Senate chairman. No members of the Idaho House have been assigned yet. The group often meets with staff from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
Sen. Elliot Werk, a Boise Democrat who will sit on the group, was doubtful about the future of the two Andreason measures.
Kevin Lewis of Idaho Rivers United, which backs both measures, was, like Werk, dubious about the future of the bills now that they're before the little-used panel.
But Jack Lyman, lobbyist for the Idaho Mining Association, said the informal nature of the common-sense task force lent itself to productive solutions instead of legislative battles.
"Everybody sits around the table," Lyman said. "Sometimes that facilitates the exchange of ideas. It's not always easy to get me and the Idaho Conservation League together outside of any formal process."