Nez Perce Water Deal Progresses,
by Associated Press & Staff
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the final hours of the 108th Congress drew to a close, members of the Idaho delegation looked for ways to pass legislation on an agreement to settle Nez Perce water rights claims on the Snake River.
They found a way by attaching the Snake River Basin agreement to a must-pass omnibus spending bill approved by the House Saturday afternoon. The Senate was expected to pass the legislation later Saturday evening before Congress sends the bill to the President for signing.
Though not in doubt, passage of the omnibus appropriations bill was taking longer than anticipated in the Senate.
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, helped write the measure and said he had a "high degree of confidence this bill will become law in coming days."
The agreement gives the Nez Perce Tribe annual rights to 50,000 acre-feet of water in the Clearwater River and $80 million in cash and land in return for dropping claims to nearly all the water in the Snake River and its tributaries. The state and federal governments also pledged tens of millions of dollars for fish habitat and other environmental improvements.
The bill would protect irrigators in the Upper Snake River Basin and some loggers and landowners in the Clearwater and Salmon river basins from endangered species-based lawsuits. The agreement was announced last June.
"Nothing is more valuable to Idaho than our water. Nothing," said Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter. "I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Protecting our water is every bit as important to the survival of the Idaho we love as protecting the Constitution is to the survival of our republic."
If signed by the president, the bill would have to be approved by the Idaho Legislature and the Nez Perce Tribe.
"When this bill is signed into law, the Idaho State Legislature will have the responsibility of determining whether this agreement should be executed," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.
Just last month, Craig and Crapo said a hold had been put on the bill by an unknown senator. Senate procedures allow a member to single-handedly block a floor vote on legislation without identifying himself or herself.
At the time Craig and Crapo agreed that there was no chance of passing the bill during this month's lame-duck session. But the hold was lifted.
Although successful in seeing the Nez Perce water rights agreement attached to the spending bill, Craig failed to get his proposal to exempt livestock operations from reporting their facilities' air emissions added to the bill, said Craig spokesman Sid Smith.
"It did not make it on the omnibus bill," Smith said.
Craig's proposal would have excluded livestock operations from a section of the 1980 Superfund law and another federal emergency planning act that require the reporting of air emissions. Craig asserts that the intention of the Superfund Act was not to regulate livestock operations but instead was meant to manage hazardous sites such as landfills and large-scale mining operations. Livestock operations would be better addressed under the federal Clean Air Act and local regulations, Craig maintains.
The senator will not likely let this bump in the road deter him from including his proposal in legislation when Congress meets again next year.
"He'll bring it up next session," Smith said.
Last we knew:
The Idaho delegation worked to get the Nez Perce water rights agreement attached to a major spending bill; Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, drafted a proposal that would exempt livestock operations from reporting gas emissions from their facilities and similarly tried to attach it to a spending bill.
The House approved the omnibus spending bill that included the Nez Perce agreement but did not include the emissions exemption.
The Senate was expected to pass the legislation Saturday evening before sending it to the President for signing; Sen. Craig will look to reintroduce his livestock gas emissions exemption proposal in Congress next year.
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