Friday, March 24, 2006

Wedge Issue

I got a letter from Idaho Power yesterday, asking me to contact legislators and object to the plan to recharge the Eastern Idaho Aquifer. This is the type of issue that can be used by Dem challengers as a wedge issue.

The Idaho legislature is very friendly to rural and agricultural interests. With the urbanization we’re seeing in some areas, urban and rural interests increasingly diverge. Incumbents who vote against their constituent’s interests are open to criticism.

The Eastern Idaho Aquifer has been depleted primarily for agriculture located in eastern and southern Idaho. That resource has been good for the economy in that area, and good for farmers and other ag businesses. Now the legislature wants to divert river water into the aquifer to recharge it, resulting in less water to pass through hydroelectric generators. Assuming that Idaho Power would achieve rate reductions, or at least avoid having to buy more expensive power off the grid, the effect of the legislation is to get all Idaho Power customers to subsidize ag operations in eastern and southern Idaho.

Idaho Power says "Idaho Power today released preliminary figures that show this year’s improved stream flows will likely result in a double digit rate reduction June 1". The article goes on to explain the effect of taking water from the Snake River and pumping it into the aquifer.

In western Idaho, and especially in the urban areas, a legislator ought not to vote for this legislation, but many will. It would be easy to make the case that legislator is not voting the interests of his or her constituents.

The aquifer is good for the eastern Idaho economy, but cheap power is good for the western Idaho economy, particularly for big employers such as Micron and HP. I don’t think that the economics argument cuts one way or the other.

Being from Blackfoot and having a good many friends who are farmers, I’m not saying that the legislation ought to be defeated. It is a good example of a wedge issue that can pry people away from the GOP. People vote their pocketbooks, and some people vote only their pocketbooks.

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