This article originally appeared on the Conservation Voters for Idaho blog on March 13, 2019.
“The climate is changing there is no question about it…We’ve just got to figure out how we’re going to cope with it.” – Idaho Gov. Brad Little, 2019 Idaho Environmental Forum
On January 16th, Governor Brad Little took an important step forward for climate change policy in Idaho and acknowledged the existence and challenges brought by climate change to Idaho communities.
“I have fed the cattle in the snow, and I have fed them in the mud, and it’s become more mud lately.” – House Speaker Scott Bedke, 2019 Idaho Environmental Forum
While Speaker Bedke wasn’t willing to make the same open acknowledgment as Gov. Little, he expressed a willingness to begin a discussion in the Statehouse.
On March 6, that conversation finally started. The House Environment, Energy, and Technology Committee held Idaho’s first-ever official hearing on climate change. Idaho experts discussed the risks and opportunities our state may face in a changing climate.
“The science is clear, the impacts are serious, and the need to act is essential.” – David Eichberg, Hewlett Packard, Climate Change Hearing
Dr. Jen Pierce of BSU described some of the ecological changes – from unreliable, altered precipitation patterns to the now routine smoke season – that Idaho’s ranchers, farmers, families, sportsmen, and recreationists are already feeling. There has yet to be a comprehensive, Idaho-specific economic analysis, but the impact to agricultural yields, decreased snowpack, and fire damage is expected to be significant.
However, while economic and ecological challenges are significant, many of the speakers highlighted the variety of timely opportunities Idaho has in terms of solutions.
“Idaho has abundant renewable energy resources; we have wind, we have solar, we have geothermal. It’s truly amazing the suite of renewable energy sources we have.” – Jen Pierce, BSU, Climate Change Hearing
“If we invest in innovation and put in the right policy frameworks at the state and federal level, I think we can actually get there in the time needed.” – Mark Peters, Idaho National Laboratory, Climate Change Hearing
Our state is flush with clean, renewable energy resource potential; including solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and biomass. Idaho is ranked 13th in U.S. for wind potential, 12th for solar potential, has the 4th largest hydroelectricity share in the nation, and is one of 8 states with operating geothermal power capacity. If fully developed, geothermal resources could provide enough energy to cover over 40% of Idaho’s total consumption with reliable baseload power. Combined with our history of energy breakthroughs and innovation at the Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho is in a position to lead the nation in climate-friendly solutions that bring jobs, grow our economy, and safeguard our state’s natural heritage.
“We can drive the innovation that is necessary to create that clean energy system, and deploy it in Idaho, and be a national leader. But I think, more importantly, create the workforce of the future.” – Mark Peters, Idaho National Laboratory, Climate Change Hearing
“For every one job in coal, of which we have none of in Idaho of course, there are 87 jobs in wind. By training the next generation of Idahoans how to maintain and take advantage of the technology we have in our state, we will be providing the next generation of Idahoans jobs to keep them here in Idaho earning good paychecks.” – Jen Pierce, BSU, Climate Change Hearing
David Eichberg, Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer of Hewlett Packard, highlighted that people are excited about the future of green jobs and the role sustainability will play in business in the coming years.
While all of the speakers acknowledged challenges and opportunities climate change presents, they also noted the need for more research into specific outcomes to inform policy decisions.
“It did highlight for me that we have not really had any of these conversations or even looked at specific Idaho impacts. I thought that they were going to have more information on impacts, and virtually every last one of them said, ‘I really don’t know how this affects Idaho.’” – Rep. John Vander Woude, In response to the Climate Change Hearing
To continue to move this conversation forward and study those specific impacts in Idaho, Representative Erpelding introduced HCR22 to create an interim committee to research any needs for mitigation and adaptation to climate variability in regards to Idaho’s natural resource issues.
Continuing this vital conversation will help Idaho adequately prepare for a changing climate by mitigating negative effects and taking advantage of new opportunities. We, as Idahoans, need to work together with industry leaders, businesses, and elected officials to keep our state a resilient place where our children and grandchildren can live and flourish.