Idaho Examiner - Sen. Larry Craig News Releases

Friday, April 28, 2006

Untapped Potential

by Senator Larry Craig

Great expanses of Idaho and the West are very dry regions. Bone dry. However, despite the dry climate, many of these places turn out to be very well-suited to agriculture when a little water is added. But what if the government – whether it was federal, state or local – passed a law that prohibited irrigation or any other use of water from lakes, rivers and streams?

Strangely enough, as American families fork over $3 per gallon of gasoline, the United States takes a very similar approach when it comes to developing reserves of oil and natural gas within our borders or just off our shores. Massive reserves lie untapped, trapped not only by layers of soil and rock, but also by layers of smothering environmental regulations and outdated hysteria.

Oil is a commodity traded on a world market. Prices have risen so high recently because demand has been rising much faster than supply. Many have asked me why demand has suddenly skyrocketed in the last few years.

One reason is the U.S. economy continues to grow, and as it does, its need for energy grows, too. Another reason is that China and India, both nations with more than 1 billion people, are industrializing and modernizing their economies, and those economies, like ours, are growing. What used to be a healthy margin for error in the world’s supply of oil has been gobbled up by these nations and others like them whose economies are very rapidly expanding and using more and more energy supplies.

Recognizing this trend, about 10 years ago, a Republican-controlled Congress approved environmentally responsible drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Although drilling would not have threatened the environment – endangered caribou herds have actually increased since the Alaska pipeline was finished, using it for warmth – then-President Clinton vetoed the bill.

Today, ANWR would be producing 1 million barrels of oil each day, had it been developed. The chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Pete Domenici noted that the estimated reserves in ANWR are enough to replace what we import from Iran. Even in a global market, an additional 1 million barrels a day is a significant amount that would undoubtedly bring the price of oil down.

Natural gas prices are exceptionally high as well, which is why the Energy committee recently approved legislation to open an area in the Gulf of Mexico known as Lease Sale 181 for exploration. This area is estimated to contain enough natural gas to heat 6 million homes for 15 years. Despite the fact that no exploration or development would take place within 100 miles of U.S. shores, well out of sight of land, some in Congress still oppose this bill.

While the Democrats threaten to filibuster Lease Sale 181, oil companies from China may soon be drilling closer to our shores than we are in the Gulf. Through an agreement with the Cuban government, Chinese companies are allowed to explore for oil and natural gas in Cuba’s Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends 45 miles from Cuban shores. Soon, it may be possible to see Chinese oil rigs from the shores of the Florida Keys.

Enough is enough. I am not content to sit atop massive domestic deposits of oil and natural gas while American families pay through the nose for a tank of gasoline. I will not accept the argument that 100 miles off the Florida coast is too close to drill, while communist China develops reserves only 45 miles away. U.S. companies are much more environmentally conscious, skilled, and have a better safety record than the Chinese. If we are serious about protecting the environment, we should not overlook these facts.

In closing, alternative sources of energy can and must play an increasing role in the U.S. energy portfolio. President Bush and Congress are dedicating billions of dollars to the research and development of ethanol, biodiesel, hydrogen fuel cells, wind and solar power, nuclear energy and many other forms.

The reality, however, is that it will be years, maybe decades, before any of these are economically viable. The energy bill we passed last summer was more of a long range solution, and will take time to make an impact. So in the meantime, it would be wise to make full use of what is at hand. We can do it safely and responsibly, with minimal impact to the environment. Let’s keep our economy well-watered, instead of watching that river roll by.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Not Just Anybody

by Senator Larry Craig

“It’s not only who you know, but what they think about you.” A friend of mine is very fond of pointing this out to people, and when you think about it, it’s often true. Just knowing someone isn’t always the key to a successful working relationship.

If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that Governor Dirk Kempthorne thinks pretty highly of Idahoans and Westerners. And that’s a good thing, since he has been nominated to be the next Secretary of Interior. The person who leads the Department of Interior (DOI) plays a very large role in the lives of people in the West, and Dirk has firsthand experience with many of the issues that impact our region. I am confident he will draw on that experience to forge positive solutions to many of these challenges.

Since his nomination, Dirk and I have been working together to prepare for his nomination hearings before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In returning to the Senate, Governor Kempthorne will be on familiar turf, seeing many places and faces that became familiar during his tenure as a senator from 1993 to 1999. A few things have changed, however, and I have been doing my best to bring him up to speed with the new personalities and dynamics within the Senate.

While his time in the Senate will be helpful, Dirk also has a solid list of accomplishments to draw upon as he makes his case for confirmation.

The reintroduction of wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming has not been a popular project with ranchers and many outdoorsmen. However, Dirk has used the power of the Governor’s Office very effectively to make the best of the situation. He directed the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to develop a sound wolf-management plan that demonstrated the State of Idaho could be trusted to take over control of the wolfpacks from the federal government. It paid off, and now our state agencies, who operate among the very people they serve, have control over wolves in Idaho.

Through a collaborative approach, Dirk helped varied groups overcome difficulties and differences, resulting in a historic water rights settlement on the Snake River, and conservation agreements to restore the sage grouse and slickspot peppergrass without listing them as endangered species.

When he was a colleague of mine in the Senate, he negotiated a significant revision of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and helped move Endangered Species Act reform much closer to reality. His most substantial legislative victory may have been the enactment of his “unfunded mandate” bill, which prohibited the federal government from requiring states to undertake new programs or regulations without providing the funding to do so.

These achievements and many more demonstrate that Dirk believes in accountability in government. Equally important, these achievements show that Dirk understands the values and experiences of the West, and that he will work on our behalf. And in doing that, he will seek to bring along as wide a variety of groups and voices as possible, so we all have a stake in success.

He will listen to mining interests, environmental groups, ranchers, hunters and anglers and more, and work with them all in good faith. These aren’t just my beliefs; they are the facts, backed up by Dirk Kempthorne’s strong record of public service.

It isn’t enough to simply know influential people. What they think of you is important too. In the same way, it isn’t enough to simply have an Idahoan at Interior; we need one who will represent us and our values well. Dirk Kempthorne is that Idahoan.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

No Labor Flow Makes Economy Slow

by Senator Larry Craig

Anybody who has watched the news or read a newspaper lately has likely heard about immigration. Whether it’s the immigration rallies taking place all across the country, or the debate in the United States Senate over comprehensive immigration reform, immigration has been a hot topic lately, and for good reason.

There are many differing proposals circulating in Congress right now that aim to solve our immigration problems, but there is almost unanimous agreement on one thing: the current system is broken and cannot be ignored. Although the Senate failed to reach an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform, no one should be fooled into thinking the debate is over. Congress finally appears to understand that today’s broken policies serve neither our security nor our economy.

Many of us understood that point several years ago, and started doing something about it. In the last decade, Congress has tripled the number of agents enforcing border and immigration laws. Apprehensions at the border have pushed well past 900,000 per year, and removals have increased sixfold as our grip has tightened. Yet, despite the increase in apprehensions and removals over the last decade, the undocumented population in this country has more than doubled, reaching as high as 12 million, by some estimates.

Why do immigrants continue to come? Jobs, of course. America’s economy continues to be the most dynamic in the world, growing rapidly. Germany and France pale in comparison, because they continue to struggle with double-digit unemployment as they try to provide lavish welfare and retirement benefits on the backs of shrinking labor pools. Japan also struggled through a labor force contraction that has slowed down its economy for well over a decade.

The native-born population of the United States is shrinking too, but America is different. It isn’t possible to become Japanese, to become German. You can move there, absorb the language and the culture, but you’ll never be a Frenchman.

But anyone can become an American.

This beautiful truth has been proven time and time again, even in Idaho. Hispanics were working in Idaho’s mines way back in the 1860s. Early in the 20th century, there was a strong Scandinavian population settling near the mountains and lakes of North Idaho, which served as the inspiration for the Coeur d’Alene High School mascot (the Vikings), so I’m told. Basque immigrants settled all across southern Idaho, and their cultural contributions have been celebrated by generations of Idahoans. It’s likely there was tension when these groups started to arrive, but we embrace this heritage now, as we ought.

Without immigrants, the U.S. culture and economy would be in the same boat as Japan and much of Europe. But they need to come here legally. A nation that fails to manage its borders cannot be secure at home. That being said, shutting down the borders alone—without reforming our immigration laws and guest worker programs—will strangle the U.S. economy, including Idaho agriculture.

At 3.4 percent unemployment, Idaho and many other states are on the verge of a labor shortage. The plain truth is that we are not reproducing quickly enough to replace retiring workers and fill the new jobs created by a growing economy. If farmers and business owners can’t get enough workers, many will fold, and the needs of American consumers—even groceries—will be met by foreign companies instead of our own.

That is why I have supported a comprehensive solution to America’s immigration problems. When the legal immigration system becomes more efficient to use and more effective, more people will use it and come here legally instead of illegally.

It must also be a realistic system. Illegal immigrants will remain underground, refusing to assimilate, if they must leave before obtaining legal status. Instead, my AgJOBS proposal, which was a part of the comprehensive package being debated on the Senate floor, would allow them to stay, but only after they pay a fine and agree to three years or more of backbreaking work in the fields of America’s farms and nurseries. Amnesty is when you get off scot-free. AgJOBS is what I call paying your dues.

The immigration debate is not going away until we have a compromise in place, approved by the House and Senate, and signed by the President. I will not rest until we have secure borders and a system that provides the workers we need.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A Secret No More

by Senator Larry Craig

Have you noticed that good news often goes unnoticed? I sure have. For every story of deception, greed or violence that appears on the local news or in the paper, I’d be willing to bet there’s at least one story of kindness, generosity or something positive that goes unreported. Human beings are captivated by the sensational, so news that may not seem all that remarkable on the surface may get passed over.

Just recently, I came across some news that I thought could bear some more attention. Idaho’s economy seems to be in outstanding condition, no matter which way you slice it.

On March 30, the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics announced state-by-state employment numbers, and Idaho looked pretty good. The unemployment rate in the state in February was 3.4 percent, well below the national average of 4.8 percent. Since February 2005, Idaho’s unemployment rate dropped from 4.1 percent to its current level of 3.4 percent, with more than 32,000 jobs being created. In fact, our unemployment rate is lower than every one of our neighboring states except Wyoming, which just nosed us out at 3.3 percent.

Some people I’ve spoken to acknowledge the job growth, but complain that all the new jobs are low-paying, dead-end service sector jobs. Common sense would suggest otherwise, however. As the unemployment numbers inch lower and lower, we are approaching what could be called a labor shortage. The laws of supply and demand tell us when something is in short supply, the price for it rises. Sure enough, employers all across the state are finding that they must offer higher wages or better benefits to attract qualified workers. A recent press release from the Idaho Department of Commerce and Labor points out that personal income in Idaho rose by 7.3 percent in 2005.

More tellingly, the Commerce and Labor release says “Per capita income, the amount of income spread over every man, woman and child in Idaho, rose 4.8 percent during 2005, two-tenths of a percentage point higher than the national increase and twice the rate of Idaho's population growth last year.” In other words, Idahoans’ incomes were rising in 2005, which wouldn’t be likely if all the new jobs being created only paid minimum-wage. Incomes and the economy grew so fast that the state had a budget surplus of more than $200 million this year.

Is the economy in Idaho perfect? No, nobody would claim that. There is always room for improvement. But one thing is certain: Idaho is on the move. We have an environment in our state that helps our economy grow and provides opportunities for Idaho workers and families. Several of our neighboring states are likely looking to Idaho and turning green with envy.

Congress and President Bush have been working to create a nationwide environment in which the economy can grow. We’ve passed several tax-relief packages so American workers can keep more of what they’ve earned, passed an energy bill, lawsuit reform and bankruptcy reform. Idaho has done an excellent job of taking advantage.

For generations, people have been coming to Idaho for its natural beauty and recreational opportunities that provide such a high quality of life. Many still come for those reasons, but they are also finding, once they arrive, that there are jobs to be had.

Yes, it’s true, good news often goes unnoticed. But with its sizzling job market, it appears that Idaho is no longer being overlooked.