June 15, 1998

Moscow-Pullman Daily News

A dangerous gamble with Idaho's future

Craig should know his state is at others' mercy

In the 1980s, Ed Koch, then-mayor of New York City, proposed a solution to prison overcrowding: build a tent jail in the Nevada desert. Koch was unabashed in his belief that there was nothing in Nevada worth much, so filling it with prisoners wouldn't be a big deal.

Needless to say, the reaction in Nevada was loud and opposed. Fortunately for Koch, his city had seven times the population of the state of Nevada and, therefore, seven times the political representation, so there was little the state could do to exact revenge - even if Koch's idea had become reality.

Idaho isn't as politically powerful as New York City and for that reason alone Sen. Larry Craig should be careful in his attempts to foist the nation's nuclear waste on the equally powerless Nevada.

Though Craig failed last week to make Nevada take the country's nuclear garbage, it is most likely not his last try.

Though mean-spirited and short-sighted, Craig's actions can be viewed in one way as representing Idaho's interest. If Nevada is forced to accept nuclear waste, Idaho rids itself of the toxic garbage.

But this is a short-term view and while Craig is in the majority in Congress now, that can change with one election. Nevada has two Democratic senators, and one of them is particularly close to Clinton. With a Democrat in the White House, what happens to Idaho if Congress is retaken by Democrats?

Like Koch before him, Craig has put little thought into his campaign other than protecting Idaho whether or not it serves the greater good. Such actions are not uncommon for politicians.

But his short-term view may prove a long-term disaster for Idaho, because Craig has set his state up for a big payback if things change in Washington, D.C., where many people look upon the Mountain West in the same manner as Koch viewed Nevada: one big dumping ground. They won't care about the difference between Nevada and Idaho (assuming they realize there is a difference), leaving political affiliation to determine who gets the shaft, er, nuclear waste depository.

Idaho and Nevada have paid their nuclear dues. As home to the Nevada Test Site, the southern half of the state has dealt with groundshaking explosions and the eastern portion of the state has dealt with downwinder syndrome. Meanwhile, Idaho has been home to the Idaho Nuclear Engineering Laboratory (now INEEL) and wonders what nuclear waste is doing to the Snake River aquifer.

Craig is betting the future of his tiny state that his party will remain in power. Unfortunately, it is all of Idaho, not Craig, that will cover the debt if his bet proves a loser.

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Copyright 1998, Moscow-Pullman Daily News