One is Vermont, where no form of federal intervention is unwelcome. Vermont has a Democratic majority, to put it mildly. Its leaders rarely protest government regulation and they positively welcome environmental restrictions. Many Vermont residents view big box stores and franchises as a threat to their rural way of life – so many of them that residents of Montpelier, the state capital, blocked McDonald’s from moving downtown some years ago.
That’s a triumph for people who want to see the state’s 18th- and 19th-century downtowns thrive. But that philosophy creates an inconvenience for locals who have to drive 40 miles to find inexpensive socks.
In Idaho, of course, it’s the idea of self-reliance that is taken to a logical extreme. Most of Idaho’s policymakers seem to believe that nobody should interfere with business. This plays out beautifully for many. Want to put the backside of big box stores on the scenic edge of a famous canyon? Go ahead – the Twin Falls Planning and Zoning Commission this spring approved a variance for that at Snake River Canyon, despite protests.
For others, the belief in self-reliance is not working out so well. For instance, in 2011, Idaho legislators cut Medicaid spending by $34.5 million. Just $1.5 million of that was restored this year, despite stories from disabled adults who are doing without essential services.
Strangely, Vermont and Idaho have a lot in common. Both have a strong tradition of hunting and fishing. Both are famed for their natural beauty and are home to ski resorts that attract well-heeled outsiders. Both sport a deeply divided political majority and a glum, disenfranchised minority that struggles to make its voice heard over the ideology-based commands from the political leaders.
And now both have demonstrated a complete lack of sense on the subject of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking is the pressurized release of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to stimulate the release of natural gas.
Idaho demonstrated this lack of sense this spring, when its Republican majority lawmakers voted to limit local control of drilling projects for oil and natural gas.
Vermont took its own wayward path a few weeks ago, when its Democratic majority voted to ban all fracking. Mind you, there’s no fracking present or planned in Vermont, and the scientists (including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) still haven’t said how much fracking damages the land and the water.
Fracturing the land in a quest for fuel is a serious issue, and it needs attention. But it needs thoughtful attention, not silly measures by extremists. Good policymaking on a scientific matter should be based on data-driven studies that show true costs and benefits, not knee-jerk ideology.
Anne Wallace Allen is managing editor of Idaho Business Review.