TWIN FALLS — The construction of a major power transmission line in southern Idaho is a step closer thanks to the $1.1 trillion budget bill passed in the U.S. House on Wednesday.
The Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area Boundary Modification Act, which would route the Gateway West line near existing power lines through the raptor conservation area south of Boise, was included in the same bill that funds the government through the end of September. If it passes the Senate and is signed by President Donald Trump, it would avert a government shutdown.
The land under the lines would be removed from the conservation area, with land near Interstate 84 added to make up for it. This was the last stretch of the route to still need federal approval, and the compromise had the support of the involved government agencies and conservation groups as well as Idaho’s entire congressional delegation.
The 1,000-mile project, proposed in 2009 by Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power, would stretch high-voltage power lines from Owyhee County to Glenrock, Wyo., passing through the Magic Valley. A statement from U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, whose district includes the Magic Valley, thanks the relevant committee chairs and credits U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, who is on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, with gathering support in the Senate and guaranteeing its inclusion in the final omnibus package.
“Without consensus from pragmatic organizations like Conservation Lands Foundation and Idaho Power, this would simply not be possible,” Simpson said. “I am pleased this bill is moving forward and I am thrilled with the savings for Idaho ratepayers and benefits to an important conservation area in Idaho.”
The omnibus bill passed 309-118. Simpson voted for it and put out a statement touting it as a win for Idaho, pointing to provisions such as more money for Idaho National Laboratory, full funding for wildfire suppression and the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, cuts in Environmental Protection Agency spending and language preventing the listing of sage grouse as endangered.
“It is the product of this past year’s worth of thoughtful deliberation and line-by-line analysis of every program in the federal budget,” he said. “Funding our government through short term Continuing Resolutions is unsustainable, and, frankly, not a responsible way to govern. Through this agreement, Congress has fulfilled its duty of keeping our government open, and while no one got everything they wanted in the final package, we have paved the way back to regular order in the weeks and months to come.”
U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, who is one of the higher-profile members of the House Freedom Caucus, voted against the final package.
“The people of Idaho’s First District sent me to Congress to cut government spending and reduce our national debt,” Labrador said. “The bill we voted on today does the opposite; it increases government spending and borrowing, breaking the spending caps that Congress agreed to when President Obama was in office. While this bill does contain some good things, I would have preferred to see included in the bill more of the priorities President Trump and the majorities in Congress campaigned on — especially funding for a border wall.”
He did, however, praise the inclusion of the Gateway West deal.
“While I opposed many things about the omnibus bill, I am grateful to Congressman Simpson for his leadership in making sure our bill was included in the final package,” Labrador said. “The Gateway West project will have a significant, positive impact on Idaho and I will continue working with Congressman Simpson and our senators to see this project to the finish line.”