UPDATE, 3:29 p.m. Democratic candidate Keith Allred now is taking a harder line against the U.S. Highway 12 shipments. During a town hall meeting in Boise in July, Allred was noncommittal, and criticized Otter for consulting with only supporters of the project.
Now, Allred believes the shipments pose a threat to emergency medical response along Highway 12. "I won't support permits for the mega-loads unless better answers are found to some of the important questions that have been raised."
UPDATE, 2:08 p.m. As I mention in this post, I asked Gov. Butch Otter's office to explain how the governor arrived at the $10 million bond figures, and whether there is adequate assurance that this is sufficient.
Here's the response I received from spokesman Jon Hanian:
As a result of three public meetings regarding U.S. 12 and comments voiced at Capital for a Day in Pierce, the Governor has asked the Idaho Transportation Department to require a damage bond as a condition for granting any future permits for ConocoPhillips.
ITD recommended a $10 million bond. That recommendation was based on a 'worst-case scenario' — i.e.: the complete failure of the longest bridge on U.S. 12, the Arrow Bridge — and the cost to replace it and mitigate any environmental damage to the Clearwater River. The Montana DOT is also requiring a $10 million bond. It should be noted that as a result of a careful review of the statistical data, we do not believe this additional step is necessary; however, the Governor wanted to be responsive to those citizens who raised concerns.
The following agencies were contacted and engaged in this process:
Bureau of Homeland Security
Idaho State Police
USDA Forest Service
U.S. Geological Survey
Northwest Passage Scenic By-Ways Advisory Team
The Nez Perce Tribal Executive Council
The Nez Perce Tribal Employment Office
Nez Perce County
This bond will provide insurance and additional peace of mind. ConocoPhillips agreed to the bond as a condition of its requested permits.
It will also be a condition of permits for the proposed shipments of Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil. Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil proposes to run a test module of its shipments on U.S. 12 in late October or early November.
Here's my original post:
On July 20, former Interior Secretary (and former Idaho Gov.) Dirk Kempthorne found himself in the uncomfortable position of explaining his relationship with Big Oil.
Appearing before a congressional panel, Kempthorne was left to explain the inexplicable: the stunning, sweeping magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. “All of us — present and former administration officials, governors, members of Congress and citizens — never contemplated an accident of this magnitude could ever happen. Had we thought so, I am confident that both the executive and the legislative branch would have worked on a bipartisan basis to prevent it.”
Kempthorne’s words take on added resonance as Idaho’s current governor explains his relationship with Big Oil.
Butch Otter supports allowing oil industry to ship oversized equipment on Idaho highways — along a breaktaking but nerve-racking stretch of U.S. Highway 12 that traverses the Lochsa River canyon. Unlike Kempthorne, who merely had to face members of Congress, Otter has to answer to the electorate, in three months.
The shipments controversy exposes some of Otter’s potential weaknesses. An uninspiring record on environmental issues. A cozy relationship with business, such as the trucking industry.
It also plays into one of Democratic challenger Keith Allred’s recurring themes — the suggestion that Otter makes snap decisions without vetting things out. Allred didn’t take a position for or against the shipments at a recent town hall meeting in Boise, but has criticized Otter for consulting only with shipping supporters.
Even though Allred is troublingly noncommittal, this issue remains a weightier problem for Otter. He enthusiastically supported the shipments in a January 2009 letter to the Port of Lewiston. Granted, that was long before Deepwater Horizon. But it also was long before Idahoans had a clue that Otter expected one of the state’s most scenic corridors to accommodate module shipments that would block both lanes of traffic and could exceed 300 tons per load.
This week, Otter announced commitments for $10 million in bonds apiece from two companies: ConocoPhillips, which is planning four shipments to Montana; and ExxonMobil subsidiary Imperial Oil, which wants to make 200 shipments to the Kearl oil sands of Alberta. I can only guess as to whether the money provides adequate political damage control, or sufficient environmental protection.
I sent spokesman Jon Hanian an e-mail late Thursday afternoon, asking how Otter arrived at the $10 million bond figures, and whether there is adequate assurance that this sum is sufficient. I haven’t gotten a response, but will update this post when I do.
I’ll concede that there’s no easy answer to the how-safe-is-safe question. How can anyone know — or say without hesitation — that $10 million can cover anything?
Don’t take my word for it.