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Gov. Little on climate change: it’s real and leaders have to take action

Just after he took the oath of office as governor, Brad Little appeared at the Idaho Environmental Forum.

Toward the end of the session, Little answered a question about climate change.

“Climate change is real,” he said.

The Associated Press story on his comments said they “shocked some.”

During BoiseDev’s extensive interview with Little, we talked about climate change – and how it is impacted by growth. He expressed some surprise at the reaction to his extemporaneous comments at the forum, but didn’t shy away from them.

“In my lifetime, the climate is warmer and the variability has gone up,” he said.

He said he starts his week by looking at Idaho’s snowpack report.

“It’s important for municipalities, for agriculture, for food processing, for economic development – and of course for recreation with skiing. And we know that the (time) the snow stays no the ground is getting shorter.”

He noted that most of the state is over 100% (the interview was taped Monday before this week’s round of continual snow and rain drove the averages even higher).

“But if it gets hot in April or May it’s going to have an impact on the state. We know that it is more of a recurring issue now.”

He said he didn’t want to “pontificate” about what causes the changing climate pattern – but says action still must be taken.

“I don’t have a magic wand, but not recognizing it is, I think, just not doing your job. It exists out there. The exact cause of it and the exact trajectory of it – there are incredible scientists that disagree over the rate and the time – but it’s happening.”

A report from the University of Idaho said the quicker snowmelt is leading to a forest fire season in Idaho that is a month longer than it was in the 1980s, on average.

“I know that we need to minimize these big catastrophic fires. Nobody likes the smoke in the summer – it’s universal. And people agree that we ought to manage these forests. People agree that we probably outhg to do maybe some controlled burning at the time of year when we can manage it and it doesn’t have a big negative impact.”

Growth impacts our climate and air quality as well. With increasing housing costs in many areas, and more and more people coming to the valley, housing clusters are moving further and further from job centers. That can increase the amount of time people spend in their cars – sending more carbon into the air and potentially exacerbating inversions. The northern part of Ada County is the only one in the state labeled as a “designated carbon monoxide maintenance area,” according to the Department of Environmental Quality.

Little said one of the keys is to locate jobs and housing together.

“We need more jobs and we need more jobs in Caldwell and Middleton and places like that to preserve our precious capacity on the roads,” he said.

[Gov. Little interview: more money for transit, HOV lanes and that local option tax talk]

Sunny Bogus Basin in the foreground, with a hazy, inverted Boise Valley in the background in 2016. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

He told a story about an inversion about 40 years ago.

“We had an inversion from January 26th to February 13th of 14th. Never ever saw the sun. Out where I ranch in Emmett, the barbware was six inches apart and grew solid with hoar frost. Up at Hilltop, which was above the inversion, it was like a mini-Boise with people going up there go get above the inversion.”

He said he’s seen three or four inversions like that in his lifetime. While some things have gotten better when it comes to local air quality, he says more can be done.

“How we burn wood is different, the output of our tailpipes are way better. The output of industry is phenomenally better – I remember the Nampa sugar plant where there was a huge plume, and it’s nothing (now) compared to what it used to be.”

“But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do more going forward. But you know the Clean Air Act and just the pressure on industry to be cleaner and the car industry to be cleaner is a good thing.”

Don Day - BoiseDev editor
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at [email protected].

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