Legislation introduced Thursday by Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, would nullify most Environmental Protection Agency regulations in Idaho.
Shepherd said he brought the bill at the request of several suction dredge miners.
“It appears the EPA bureaucracy has an agenda in its interpretation of what pollution is,” he said. “They're saying if you pick up sand with a suction dredge, run it through and dump it back in the water, that's pollution. It's pretty much shutting (the dredgers) down. That's the main thing driving this, but the bill pertains to any regulations not approved by the people.”
Members of the House State Affairs committee questioned the legality of the measure, but agreed it's a topic worthy of discussion.
Shepherd said he has asked the Attorney General's Office for an opinion on the legality of his bill, but hasn't heard back yet.
The measure states that “the regulation authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is not authorized by the Constitution and … is hereby declared to be invalid in the state of Idaho.”
The bill doesn't nullify regulations approved by Congress, Shepherd said, but does nullify regulations created by the EPA alone to implement legislation like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.
Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, agreed the suction dredge issue needs to be addressed, but wasn't sure this was the right approach.
“I hope this doesn't undermine efforts to find a solution,” he said. “Also, we codified many of these regulations into state law when we took primacy over the EPA programs, so this bill would be nullifying state law at the same time.”
Rep. Lynn Luker, a Boise attorney, wondered if Shepherd's bill really accomplishes anything.
“How does it protect miners from the federal government imposing a fine (for a pollution discharge), since that process can go through federal court?” he asked. “I'm struggling to see how, in practical terms, this will protect our businesses.”
Idaho is unusual in that the Legislature ultimately approves all rules and regulations needed to implement state policies. Agencies adopt preliminary rules, but then run them past lawmakers at the beginning of every session.
Congress doesn't follow that practice. Consequently, the EPA and other agencies can adopt rules that never actually get approved by elected representatives.
“That's the problem – Congress isn't asserting its authority to look at these rules,” said Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona. “I think what Representative Shepherd is getting at are the regulations that aren't in the law or that greatly exceed the intent. Agriculture is facing lots of things like that with the Clean Air Act that can't begin to complied with. So I understand why he's bringing this. It's worthy of discussion.”
Now that the bill has been introduced, it could be brought back to committee for a public hearing.