Letters From the West

Labrador stands by cuts to Idaho lab but says hands off BPA

U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, right, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., (Idaho Statesman File Photo)

U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, right, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., (Idaho Statesman File Photo)

Republican Rep. Raul Labrador took a tour last week of the Idaho National Laboratory and faced the Idahoans whose jobs he put on the line in votes to cut Energy Department lab’s budget and in his support for shutting down the government.

Labrador told the Idaho Statesman he rejects the idea that Idaho’s economy depends on the federal dollars that go to research and environmental clean-up at the lab because “government doesn’t create jobs.” He stuck to that message in talks to local leaders and the Rotary Club, reminding folks we have a $17 trillion national debt.

I reported in 2010 that the INL creates more than 24,000 Idaho jobs and generates $3.5 billion in economic impact, according to Boise State University economists. It then had more than 8,000 people directly working for the government or its contractors, and an additional 16,133 people had jobs because the INL is there due to the multiplier effect.

That has dropped since the federal government made meat-axe cuts called the sequester that did not allow managers to move finds around the reduce the impact. Labrador also took credit for those and rejected the idea that his Republican colleague Mike Simpson’s expected Appropriations Energy and Commerce subcommittee chairmanship was critical to the economy of eastern Idaho.

“I don’t think one man or one man’s election is critical to Idaho’s economy,” Labrador told the editorial board.

The INL is not in Labrador’s district. His doctrinaire stand appears courageous in the context of future aspirations for statewide office. But 1st District congressmen long have taken shots at Energy Department programs freely in the context of their own district.

Republican Rep. Larry Craig was an opponent of the Superconducting Super Collider research project the INL hoped to snag in the 1980s. He later was able to wash over that to become one of the lab’s strongest defenders as a senator.

And while Labrador says the INL doesn’t create jobs, he signed a letter last week to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, with 23 other Northwesterners in Congress defending arguably the most socialist entity in the region, the Bonneville Power Administration. The federal power agency markets power from government-owned and built dams and sells it to electric cooperatives and municipal agencies in the Northwest at hugely subsidized rates.

Here’s their own words from the letter they signed.

“The Bonneville Power Administration is a crucial engine of the Northwest economy,” the congressmen, including Labrador, wrote. “It controls 65 percent of the region’s power generating capacity in the region (an average of 10.7 gigawatts), and half of the baseload power.”

A chunk of that power goes to places like Lewiston, Priest Lake and Weiser in the 1st District. But Labrador, like virtually every other elected official in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana, wants the rest of the country to keep its hands off their cookie jar.

“BPA decisions must be made in the Northwest for the benefit of the Northwest,” the 23 said in the letter.

Conservatives have long sought to privatize BPA, led in the 1980s by then President Ronald Reagan. Only by the Northwest congressional delegation standing together have these assaults been beaten back.

Reagan never suggested huge cuts to the INL. And Labrador isn’t ready to open Northwest power to Reagan’s free market.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Letters from the West