Letters From the West

Obama climate plan includes new western land, water initiatives

Because of low snowpack and low flows, the Snake River below Swan Falls Dam is running low. More drought and more floods are forecast by scientists because of climate change.

Because of low snowpack and low flows, the Snake River below Swan Falls Dam is running low. More drought and more floods are forecast by scientists because of climate change.

President Obama announced Tuesday he was establishing a pilot project to remove extra brush and vegetation around water reservoirs and other critical areas as a part of his climate action plan.

Like all such presidential initiatives, the action plan focuses existing federal programs into the climate adaptation strategy including current programs to reduce wildfire and flood risks.

The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership is one of his initiatives to adapt to climate change. He said it promotes resilience in fish and wildlife populations, forests and other plant communities, freshwater resources and the ocean. He also urged federal agencies to look at other measures that can be taken against extreme weather, protect biodiversity and conserve natural resources in the face of a changing climate, and store more carbon.

The Department of Agriculture is creating seven new “Regional Climate Hubs” to deliver up to date information to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners. The Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Bureau of Reclamation are also providing grants and technical support to agricultural water users for more water-efficient practices in the face of drought and long-term climate change.

The big news that his initiative will establish carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants will add to the costs of Idaho Power to hold on to coal plants it operates in partnership with other utilities in Wyoming and Nevada. Idaho Power was already expecting to pay $500 million to upgrade pollution controls on the plants and the new initiative will add to that even though it may take years for the new rules to go into effect.

Idaho will likely get a piece of the $8 billion in loan guarantee authority available for a advanced fossil energy and efficiency projects. Obama also urged Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to permit enough renewables projects — like wind and solar – on public lands by 2020 to power more than 6 million homes.

But that will be a challenge in the face of the possible listing of sage grouse across the West.

Obama is looking at rooftop solar projects on federally assisted housing projects and continuing the military’s efforts to replace fossil fuel plants with renewable energy. Expect new standards to make appliances even more efficient.

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.

Posted in Letters from the West