BOISE — One year into President Donald Trump’s term, many Idaho agricultural organizations are hopeful that their members will see progress on key issues.
“I’ve never seen the agricultural community so united,” said Carl Pendleton, who farms in Lincoln County. He had just returned from a meeting in Washington, D.C.
As organizations have begun holding their annual conventions, reforming environmental regulations is a high priority. That’s not new, but what is new is the sense of optimism that their voices will be heard.
“This administration values and wants state input,” said Norm Semanko during the fall Idaho Water Users Association water law seminar. “The last two times I have been to D.C., Trump appointees say, ‘What do states think? What do states want?’’’
That’s called cooperative federalism, he said, where the state and federal branches work together.
Semanko listed several areas where water users may see progress including designation of waters of the United States (WOTUS), the Columbia River Treaty, agricultural water safety standards under the Food Safety Modernization Act and climate change. Although he is no longer executive director of the IWUA, the Boise-based attorney continues to be active in the organization and also the National Water Resources Association.
An executive order issued in February outlined a two-step process to look at repealing the previous WOTUS decision that included irrigation canals and infrastructure with natural rivers under federal regulations and then to replace it with something better. Draft rules are out.
Clean Water Act rules have been confusing at best for water users for many years, Semanko said. The George W. Bush administration had announced a rule-making process but it was not completed before Bush left office.
While he is confident manmade waterways will not be classified as waters of the U.S., he also warned fellow water law attorneys that the decision will be reviewed and likely challenged in court.
“The Trump administration will take a fresh look at the costs and benefits of regulations,” Semanko said. “We’re not chucking the goals of environmental regulation but will include economic development and jobs.”
He is also encouraged by an order to put limits on paperwork and the time required to do environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. Limiting the NEPA process to two years will allow time to conduct a review of the potential environmental impact yet still give investors confidence to make financial decision, Semanko explained.
“We want analytical data rather than encyclopedic documents,” he said.
Regarding the Columbia River Treaty, a 60-year-old agreement between the U.S. and Canada designed to coordinate flood management efforts and optimize hydroelectric production, Semanko is confident that the U.S. — and not just the Pacific Northwest — will be involved in the negotiations.
Under the treaty, the U.S. paid Canada $64 million to construct three dams in British Columbia in exchange for 8.94 million acre-feet of assured flood storage. In 2024, that assured storage converts to effective use storage forcing U.S. dam operators to make effective use of storage water for flood control before calling on Canada to store snowmelt. The idea is to improve salmon habitat.
Ecosystem function is not part of the original treaty and U.S. water users don’t want it to be part of the treaty extension. Idaho made recommendations for treaty modifications five years ago. Semanko expects the Trump Administration will take an active role in the negotiations but cautioned that there are other higher priority issues under discussion with Canada, including the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“Elections have consequences,” Semanko told water users. “I think we will see that here.”
Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council, had an equally optimistic tone when talking with members of the Idaho Cattle Association at their annual convention in Sun Valley. Modernizing the Endangered Species Act and the Antiquities Act are high on their agenda.
“Even if you don’t have a listed species on your land, you are dealing with agencies who are managing listed species or a species that may be listed,” Lane said.
One of the problems with trying to reform the ESA is that it’s the one of the most popular acts in America.
“It saved the bald eagle. It’s iconic,” Lane said. ”Our goal is to make the ESA work like the rest of America thinks it already does.”
The Public Lands Council worked with the Western Governors Association and several environmental groups to develop a list of reforms that both sides could live with.
“We want to make it easier to get a species off the list and harder to get a species on the list,” Lane said. “This is the closest we’ve been to having a live ball that we can take to Congress.”
Lane expects to see a decision released on the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah soon and that 1 million or so acres could be trimmed from the 1.35 million acres designated by President Barack Obama.
When that happens the environmental community will freak out, Lane said, but grazers need to be ready to say that they agree that a U.S. president should not have the authority to make large monument designations.
The Antiquities Act should allow a president the flexibility to protect a small ancient village site, should one be discovered during their term, but not to take a million acres around that site, Lane said.
“The president taking action on this issue will create enough noise that we hope we can move forward with reforms.”
“The Trump administration will take a fresh look at the costs and benefits of regulations. We’re not chucking the goals of environmental regulation but will include economic development and jobs.”Norm Semanko, Boise attorney