Eject > Political > Current Activity in the U.S. Congress – 7 Legislative Items Senator James E. Risch Co-Sponsored or Sponsored in the 116th Congress

Current Activity in the U.S. Congress – 7 Legislative Items Senator James E. Risch Co-Sponsored or Sponsored in the 116th Congress

In June of 2018, the Idaho Statesman news outlet reported that “Manafort lobbyists met with Idaho’s Jim Risch, leading to claim of illegal donations”. The article points towards the junior Republican senator for Idaho as one of many “American politicians pursued by a Ukrainian lobbying effort now being scrutinized by special counsel Robert Mueller.”

It was during the investigation that the FEC (Federal Election Commission) received a complaint indicating a belief that “Risch received illegal foreign campaign contributions via a scheme concocted by Manafort and a former business partner, Rick Gates, in which a foreign national group backed by Yanukovych’s political party used ‘straw men’ to donate to U.S. candidates running for federal office.”

However, the same piece also explained that the senator had not been “contacted by any Department of Justice, FBI, Special Counsel or other investigators about the lobbyists Manafort hired or their campaign contributions to him.”

The senator also met with two lobbying firms that Manafort had hired and received contributions from them afterward. The complainant, an ethics attorney named J. Whitfield Larrabee, said that “the lobbying visit and donations…[and] reimbursement money included payments for the donations to Risch…[and that] Risch accepted the contributions, knowing that they were paid through a straw, and that the funds came from the ECFMU, or other foreign nationals of Ukrainian or Russian origin who were laundering money through the ECFMU.”

Why target Senator Risch? As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, and the only one to get contributions connected to the organization. He would be of some use to the organization. The article indicates that in “recent years, Risch has argued for a stronger U.S. response to Russia following that country’s annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine, and voted for a bill last year expanding sanctions on Russia…[and] has repeatedly voiced skepticism that any attempt by Russia to influence the 2016 election was successful.”

With the release of the Mueller report, and in another article from the same news outlet, Senator Risch (a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee) said, “For me, there was no news in Mueller’s report. We have reviewed thousands of documents including dozens of witness statements throughout the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation, and I reached the same conclusion as Mueller: President Trump did not collude with the Russians.”

These issues are still being investigated and remain in the public eye, but one thing that must get more attention is that there appears to have been some threat of influence by foreign donors.

This is the “dark money,” that has millions of American voters worried about the risks it poses to American democracy. If senators like James Risch fall under scrutiny, it proves that high-ranking officials may be compromised. In this article, we’ll explore Senator Risch specifically, and look at all of his campaign backers before exploring his legislative work, and all in an effort to tag signs of influence.

Dark money, for those who are unclear about its meaning, is mostly untraceable money poured into campaigns. It can also include funds channeled through other means into campaign coffers. Whether anonymous and dark, or entirely open and obvious, donations and support create influence.

And today’s donors are not limited to the individuals or the wealthy, but also the mega-rich who can give unlimited sums. This was made clear in 2010 with the Supreme Court case known as the Citizens United ruling, in which the Court held that “the free speech clause of the first amendment prohibits the government from restricting corporations from making political expenditures.”

In essence, this opened the floodgates for PACs (Political Action Committees) and SuperPACS to accept enormous sums at previously unseen levels. And PACs and SuperPACs differ only slightly in how they can or cannot operate. PACs can give to parties or candidates, while SuperPACs can only spend on marketing and ads. They are unlimited in the amounts they can accept or spend, as well. Both groups can allow donors anonymity because both are non-profit. They are legally allowed to keep their donors’ names entirely private. This is due to recent changes in IRS rules, which generated a lot of controversy when they appeared in 2017.

As the Open Secrets Website reported in 2018, the Senate had voted to “prevent ‘dark money’ from getting even darker.” They had managed to narrowly approve a resolution designed to toss out the new “Treasury Department policy that no longer requires some 501(c) tax-exempt nonprofits — including politically active 501(c)(4) ‘dark money’ groups — to disclose donor names and addresses in tax returns submitted to the IRS.”

Sadly, the resolution did not pass the House, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin became a major opponent to undoing the new rule, explaining that it prevented any confidential information from being leaked by the IRS.

He had only a single instance to use as an example, when “the IRS posted unredacted tax forms revealing donors to the Republican Governors Association Public Policy Committee.” Prior to the change in IRS rules, all names and addresses of donors were reported to the IRS, and it was the responsibility of the IRS to maintain confidentiality.

Unfortunately, the anonymity rule remains, making it almost impossible to discover undue influence. Those opposed to any sort of outside spending have combatted the rule, “spending of this kind (in which groups did not reveal their donors) climbed rapidly from five million dollars in the year 2006 to more than three hundred million dollars in 2012.” They noted that this sort of growth is an obvious sign of outside and/or corporate influence, since most donors could not increase contributions by 600% in such a short span. As noted, these are contributions from mega-rich donors, that many feel are “effectively in control of American politics, writing six- and seven-figure checks to super PAC’s to support ad campaigns that confuse viewers and distort the views and records of candidates,” as one source said.

While these donors rarely make obvious steps to interfere, they can use their influence for “subtle things that are less top of mind, less likely to be in the news — some amendment tucked into a larger bill…[and] greater access for friendly lobbyists.”

We know what Senator Risch has been accused of, and so it means looking at his activities, voting records, and legislative actions to see if there is influence that would reveal him leaning towards his donors. Naturally, we won’t leap to conclusions about this,but,we will look at several key items to determine if there are any questionable links between his backers and his work in the Senate. We’ll look at:

  • The Senator’s publicly stated priorities and issues
  • Senator Risch’s committee and caucus activities
  • The Senator’s key sources of campaign funding
  • Senator Risch’s most recent legislative items sponsored or co-sponsored

We are also going to examine other facts, including bipartisanship ratings, conservative rankings, and more, to reach conclusions.

For example, Senator Risch ranked towards the middle of the Lugar Center Bipartisanship Index, holding 45th place. This means that Democrats support his legislative items about as much as he supports theirs.

His Trump Score” from FiveThirtyEight for the 116th Congress is the same from the previous Congress, and hovers at 90%, meaning that he supports President Trump’s policies, most of the time. The Conservative Review agrees that he is strongly conservative, offering a numeric grade of 82% and a letter grade of B.

His approval ratings in the Senate are mid-range, as well, with a rank of 43 out of 100 senators and a net approval of only 57 from his party.

So, he seems like a loyal member of the Republican party, but it will take more data than this alone to identify any signs of trouble.

About Senator James Risch

Born in 1943 in Wisconsin, he graduated from high school there before transferring to the University of Idaho to study forestry. He continued his education, obtaining a JD from the school’s College of Law, and entered politics two years after graduating. He won office as a county Prosecuting Attorney and continued teaching in his spare time. He then went on to the Idaho state senate, then moved into the role of lieutenant governor, and then to the governor in 2006. Oddly enough, he decided to return to the role of lieutenant governor and then won a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2008. He won again in 2014 and is slated for his next election in 2020.

At his official website, it explains that Senator Risch “holds a longstanding commitment to public service and a passion for good government. Known for ‘pragmatic decision-making,’ Risch is what his peers call a ‘no-nonsense, get-the-job-done leader’ with more than four decades of experience in elected office.”

His site also identifies the issues he believes are most significant to the people of Idaho, including:

  • Agriculture
  • Appropriations/Budget
  • Business/Commerce
  • Constitution, Crime and Judiciary
  • Defense
  • Education
  • Energy
  • Environment and Natural Resources
  • Family Values
  • Foreign Relations
  • Gun Rights
  • Health Care
  • Homeland Security and Immigration
  • Housing
  • Labor
  • Public Lands
  • Science/Technology
  • Social Security
  • Taxes
  • Transportation
  • Veterans

ProPublica monitors politicians for how they vote, the most common subjects of bills they sponsor and even what issues are the most common in their press releases. They have identified that Senator Risch focuses on the following legislative items:

  • International Affairs
  • Public Lands and Natural Resources
  • Labor and Employment
  • Congress
  • Government Operations and Politics

They have also kept track of the subjects of press releases from his office, which include:

  • Public Lands and Natural Resources
  • Energy
  • International Affairs
  • Economics and Public Finance

There is some overlap and some agreement with his statements about the issues. However, it takes much more data to see alignment between his actions, campaign finance, and constituents.

Senator Risch’s Committee Work

For the 116th Congress, Senator Risch is assigned to the following committees and subcommittees:

  • Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
    • Subcommittee on Energy
    • Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining
    • Subcommittee on Water and Power
  • Committee on Foreign Relations (Chairman)
    • Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy
    • Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy
    • Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation
    • Subcommittee on Multilateral International Development, Multilateral Institutions, and International Economic, Energy, and Environmental Policy
    • Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism
    • Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management, International Operations, and Bilateral International Development
    • Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues
  • Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship
  • Select Committee on Ethics
  • Select Committee on Intelligence
  • United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control

His participation in such committees represents a tremendous amount of authority and opportunity. And that means it is time to look for any signs that large scale donors might be seeking to benefit from the Senator’s positioning in committees.

The Top Industries Funding Senator Risch Campaign Efforts

In 2014, Senator Risch’s campaign raised $2,902,855.00 and spent $1,761,223.00, leaving more than one million dollars in cash on hand. His support came from an array of industries, and we’ll look at those contributors in three distinct groupings:

  • The industries in which the Senator was a “favorite,” or top recipient in the last campaign cycle (2014)
  • The industries that contributed the most substantial amount of financial support
  • Individual organizations that donated the most

According to the Open Secrets Website, Senator Risch was not an industry favorite in any segment. He did, however, receive strong support from other industries, and the 20 sectors that gave the most, overall, in 2014 were (in ranking order):

  1. Leadership PACs
  2. Oil & Gas
  3. Insurance
  4. Retired
  5. Pro-Israel
  6. Mining
  7. Miscellaneous Manufacturing & Distributing
  8. Securities & Investment
  9. Real Estate
  10. Commercial Banks
  11. Electric Utilities
  12. Republican/Conservative
  13. Lobbyists
  14. Crop Production & Basic Processing
  15. Forestry & Forest Products
  16. Lawyers/Law Firms
  17. Electronics Manufacturing & Equip
  18. Miscellaneous Energy
  19. Accountants
  20. Health Professionals

Finally, there were the companies and other groups that gave, individually. However, none of them donated directly to the campaign; instead, they worked with PACs or had direct employee contributions for the 2014 election, and were:

  • Honeywell International – “An American multinational conglomerate company that produces commercial and consumer products, engineering services and aerospace systems. The company operates four business units, known as Strategic Business Units – Honeywell Aerospace, Home and Building Technologies (HBT), Safety and Productivity Solutions (SPS), and Honeywell Performance Materials and Technologies.”
  • Potlatch Corp –An “American diversified forest products company based in Spokane, Washington.It manufactures and sells lumber, panels and particleboard and receives revenue from other assets such as mineral rights and the leasing of land as well as the sale of land considered expendable. In February 2018. Potlatch acquired Deltic Timber Corp., a smaller Arkansas-based timber company. Following the merger, the company was renamed PotlatchDeltic Corporation.”


  • Blue Cross & Blue Shield Assn – “A federation of 36 separate United States health insurance organizations and companies, providing health insurance in the United States to more than 106 million people. Blue Cross was founded in 1929 and became the Blue Cross Association in 1960, while Blue Shield emerged in 1939 and the Blue Shield Association was created in 1948. The two organizations merged in 1982. In the healthcare insurance industry, the organization is known as ‘The Association’ and has two offices: in Chicago and Washington.”
  • Murray Energy – “Murray Energy Corporation produces approximately 30 million tons of bituminous coal each year and employs approximately 3,000 people in the United States. In addition to its mining operations, Murray Energy owns and operates river, truck, and rail terminals on the Ohio River; a rail loadout facility in Central Utah; and a diesel and mining equipment rebuild facility in West Virginia.”
  • Travelers Companies – “An American insurance company. It is the second-largest writer of U.S. commercial property-casualty insurance, and the third-largest writer of U.S. personal insurance through independent agents. Travelers is incorporated in Minnesota, with headquarters in New York City, and its largest office in Hartford, Connecticut. Travelers also maintain a large office in St. Paul, Minnesota. It has been a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average since June 8, 2009.”
  • Chevron Corp – An “American multinational energy corporation. One of the successor companies of Standard Oil, it is headquartered in San Ramon, California, and active in more than 180 countries. Chevron is engaged in every aspect of the oil, natural gas, and geothermal energy industries, including hydrocarbon exploration and production; refining, marketing and transport; chemicals manufacturing and sales; and power generation. Chevron is one of the world’s largest oil companies; as of 2019, it ranked eleventh in the Fortune 500 list of the top US closely held and public corporations and 28th on the Fortune Global 500 list of the top 500 corporations worldwide.”
  • Williams & Jensen–“ A Washington, D.C-based ‘government affairs firm,’ a law firm that engages primarily in lobbying for big business. According to its web site, Williams & Jensen was co-founded in 1970 by J. D. Williams, a tax and business lobbyist in Washington, and the late Robert Jensen, who was ‘known for his antitrust, securities, and litigation experience.’ …Williams & Jensen focuses primarily on lobbying. They help companies and organizations in the U.S. and around the world influence American legislation and public policy processes. The firm’s Web site boasts that its ‘record of winning in Washington has attracted a clientele of leading companies, trade associations, and institutions, many relying on the firm’s services for more than three decades.’”
  • Melaleuca Inc – This “company offers contracts with independent marketing executives who refer customers to Melaleuca that purchase its various lines of nutritional, pharmaceutical, personal care, household cleaning, and pet care products. They also offer travel, phone and credit card services. Customers receive discounts if they order a minimum monthly product supply, but are not required to maintain an inventory of products.”
  • Exxon Mobil – “ An American multinational oil and gas corporation headquartered in Irving, Texas. It is the largest direct descendant of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company and was formed on November 30, 1999, by the merger of Exxon (formerly the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey) and Mobil (formerly the Standard Oil Company of New York). ExxonMobil’s primary brands are Exxon, Mobil, Esso, and ExxonMobil Chemical…One of the world’s largest companies by revenue…”
  • Idaho Power – “A regulated electrical power utility. Its business involves the purchase, sale, generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in eastern Oregon and southern Idaho. It is a subsidiary of IDACORP, Inc. The company’s 24,000-square-mile (62,000 km2) service area generally follows the area around the Snake River and its tributaries…Idaho Power owns and operates 17 hydroelectric dams and 3 natural gas power plants. IPC also owns shares of three coal-fired power plants.”

Not many instate firms appear here, but that is no sign of influence or sway. To truly identify any problematic behaviors means taking all that we have learned and comparing it to the work Senator Risch has done in the Senate during the current Congress.

7 Legislative Items Senator Risch Has Sponsored During the 116th Congress – To Date

For the 116th Congress, to date, Senator Risch has 146 pieces of legislation; he sponsored only 18 thus far and co-sponsored the remaining 128. The Senator’s official Congressional page indicates that his emphasis in this Congress has been primarily on International Affairs, Labor and Employment, and Public Lands and Natural Resources.

S.52 — Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019

Introduced on January 8, this bill became part of S.1, also known as the “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act,” which according to an NBC News report, “rolls together four bills that were supported by both Democrats and Republicans in the last Congress but weren’t ultimately enacted before the year ran out.”

The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act is designed to impose “new sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government in response to alleged human rights violations. It was passed unanimously by the House in the last Congress, but Senate aides say that Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky blocked it by obstructing attempts to use ‘unanimous consent’ instead of a formal vote to pass it.” Similar legislation was introduced into the House at the same time.

In May, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee “convened a committee business meeting during which members approved 10 pieces of legislation and five nominations,” with this bill among them.

At that meeting, Senator Risch said, “I am particularly glad that members of the committee supported the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, a version of the bill I authored and have been working to pass in the Senate for quite some time. Amid new reports that the Assad regime and its Russian backers may again be using chemical weapons against innocent civilians in Syria, it is as important as ever that this bill moves to the president’s desk. With nearly half a million lives lost, and millions more displaced from their homes, we must do more to ensure the Assad regime and its backers are held to account for the atrocities they’ve perpetrated.”

The language of the bill is plain and says that it would establish “additional sanctions and financial restrictions on institutions and individuals related to the conflict in Syria.

The Department of the Treasury shall determine whether the Central Bank of Syria is a financial institution of primary money laundering concern. If so, Treasury shall impose one or more special measures, such as requiring domestic financial institutions to maintain additional records on transactions involving the bank.

The President shall impose sanctions on foreign persons that (1) provide significant support or engage in a significant transaction with the Syrian government or those acting on behalf of Syria, Russia, or Iran, or (2) are knowingly responsible for serious human rights abuses against the Syrian people.

The bill also imposes sanctions on those that knowingly provide various goods or services to Syria, such as aircraft for the military, technology for the government’s domestic petroleum production, items on the U.S. Munitions List, and items that the President believes are being used to commit human rights abuses against the Syrian people.

The sanctions include blocking of financial transactions and barring of entry into the United States. Such sanctions shall not apply to activities related to providing humanitarian aid or supporting democratic institutions in Syria.

The President may suspend the sanctions under certain conditions, including if it is in the United States’ national security interests.

The Department of State is authorized to assist entities that are conducting criminal investigations and gathering evidence to prosecute those responsible for war crimes in Syria.”

It was read twice and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations in the Senate.

S.2023 —FAST Fix Act of 2019

Introduced June 27, this bill looks to “level the playing field for rural states to better compete for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) awards.” It is bipartisan legislation with seven cosponsors, and also seeks to “reform the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Federal and State Technology (FAST) Partnership Program to encourage federal economic development grants to be awarded to small businesses and universities in states that have historically lacked SBIR and STTR awards,” according to Senator Risch’s press release about it.

Speaking about it before the Senate, he said, “My legislation will help small businesses and universities in underserved states like Idaho receive better access to federal funds so they can undertake more research and development and thereby create more Idaho jobs. This bill is a common-sense measure that will help ensure more of our federal resources are reaching rural states to provide jobs and local economic growth, rather than remaining concentrated in coastal elite states.”

The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

S.1975 — Small Business Investment Improvement Act of 2019

Introduced on June 26, and also another bipartisan item, the bill looks to “create oversight of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program and facilitate more early-stage capital to Idaho’s small businesses.”

As noted in a press release from the Senator’s office, current laws mean the “SBIC program lacks statutory timelines for processing applications, which has caused uncertainty for funds applying to participate in the program and small businesses seeking investor capital. As a result, millions of private dollars are restricted from being invested in America’s small businesses.

This legislation will direct the SBA to approve or decline applicants within specific reasonable timelines and require Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) background checks on all applicants before they can participate.”

As the Senator noted when speaking of the need for such legislation, “The delays currently plaguing the SBA’s SBIC application process are preventing millions of dollars from reaching Idaho’s small businesses and hurting the applicants who must wade through many levels of bureaucracy to invest in start-ups and small businesses. The Small Business Investment Improvement Act will provide a common-sense solution that requires the SBA to process an application within reasonable tailored timelines.”

Also referring to it as commonsensical, fellow Idaho Senator Crapo said that the bill would “facilitate a timely, tailored approach for grant applications, while maintaining proper oversight, resulting in more small business investment in our communities.”

The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

S.2092 — Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act

Introduced on July 11, this is another bit of bipartisan legislation from Senator Risch. It seeks to “promote hunting traditions and ensure the continued successful funding of wildlife conservation through the purchase of hunting and recreational shooting equipment,” according to a news item about it.

Explaining the importance of the bill, Senator Risch said, “Hunting and shooting sports are woven into the fabric of Idaho’s history with generations of sportsmen and women passing down hunting traditions from father to son, mother to daughter. This is a legacy we must uphold and protect. This legislation will make important updates to the Pittman-Robertson Fund to ensure future generations can carry on this treasured pastime of hunting and recreational shooting while conserving wildlife for outdoorsmen and women to enjoy and experience.”

The existing Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 uses “tax revenue from the sale of shooting and archery equipment generates funding for hunter education and wildlife conservation. This “pay to play” system has provided a symbiotic relationship between sportsmen and the resources they use for hunting and recreational shooting.

The Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act will update the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 to ensure continued successful funding for wildlife conservation that benefits all Americans. The updates will extend existing financial and technical support to the states to include hunting and recreational shooting promotion and recruitment.”

The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

S.2066 —Saudi Arabia Diplomatic Review Act of 2019

In yet another bipartisan effort, this bill was introduced on July 9 and seeks to “mandate an Executive Branch review of America’s relationship with the Saudi government,” according to one cosponsor’s press release about it.

Going on to explain, it says that although “the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have a history of shared strategic interests, the kingdom’s blatant disregard for human rights and international norms under Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has strained the bilateral partnership and threatens to undermine long-term U.S. interests in the region.”

Discussing the need for the legislation, Senator Risch said, “All of us in Congress agree that we need to see a change in Saudi conduct going forward. The kingdom’s concerning conduct is not new, and it reached a turning point in the aftermath of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, which was a horrendous act for which we all seek justice. This legislation is meant to address the tensions between our two nations, reevaluate our bilateral relationship, and change Saudi conduct moving forward. I am glad to have bipartisan support for this effort, which would have a very real impact at a time when emotions continue to run high and there are many ideas, but few plans.”

The press release explains further that the bill seeks to address “growing concerns that recent Saudi conduct threatens to harm U.S. interests in the Middle East. The bill calls for a comprehensive and strategic review of U.S.-Saudi relations and implements a visa restriction in order to affect changes in conduct. The legislation revokes or denies visas issued to members of the Saudi royal family serving in the equivalent of executive schedule or senior executive service positions, including spouses or children. Additionally, the Saudi Arabia Diplomatic Review Act addresses the ongoing war in Yemen, protection of civilians, and the flow of humanitarian aid.”

The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

S.1570 —Aquifer Recharge Flexibility Act

Holding hearings on July 8, the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power met to discuss legislation first introduced by Senator Risch on May 21. Designed to “ease restrictions to allow for aquifer recharge through federal lands and facilities,” the bill (as explained in a press release about it) would “will have a marked impact on the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer in Eastern Idaho, one of the largest aquifers in the world.”

The “Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer in eastern Idaho is one of the largest aquifers in the world, sustaining Idaho’s vital agricultural industry. Currently, bureaucratic barriers prevent effective recharge of this aquifer and others. The Aquifer Recharge Flexibility Act will cut red tape and allow for recharge on federal property to help restore the aquifer back to healthy levels for sustainable long-term use by farmers, ranchers, and communities across Idaho.”

During the hearings, Senator Risch introduced “Wesley Hipke, Managed Recharge Program Manager for the State of Idaho” who “testified on the importance of aquifer recharge and the need for flexibility in the process.”

He explained that “Idaho is at the forefront in developing large-scale managed aquifer recharge to actively manage groundwater aquifers. With the enactment of S. 1570 . . . we can continue to move forward using managed aquifer recharge as a significant water management tool in Idaho and other areas of the West.”

Senator Risch noted that “Water is absolutely critical, and one of the things that is relatively recent is recharge. It is incredibly important to us, particularly in Eastern Idaho where we have Idaho’s Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer…We’ve become very efficient at drilling wells and taking water out of it in order to irrigate and do other things, so it’s important that we monitor that aquifer and that we recharge it where possible, and that’s what this bill is designed to do.”

The bill also had support from the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, among others.

S.2270 —Enhancing Geothermal Production on Federal Lands Act

This bicameral bill was introduced on July 25 and seeks to “streamline the discovery and permitting process for geothermal energy projects. This bill will bring geothermal to parity with oil and gas exploration on public lands,” according to a press release from Senator Risch.

It will do this by alleviating some of the burdens of the processes, and by:

  • “Creating a limited categorical exclusion for geothermal exploration activities on federal lands so that companies can mitigate the risk of investing the high up-front capital costs that geothermal development requires.
    • The categorical exclusion mirrors the categorical exclusion currently available to oil and gas exploration wells.
  • Requiring the Secretary of the Interior to identify priority areas for geothermal development on federal lands within 5 years of the enactment of the bill.
  • Allowing for geothermal development on lands already leased for oil and gas development.
    • This will encourage utilization of a valid geothermal resource if discovered on an existing federal oil and gas lease.
  • Permitting noncompetitive leasing on adjacent federal lands for geothermal energy production.
    • This will enable a current leaseholder to acquire neighboring lands at fair market value to fully utilize a geothermal resource.”

When speaking about it, Senator Risch said that “Geothermal energy holds immense potential in Idaho and across much of the West, but unfortunately, developers looking to harness this resource on federal lands must navigate a labyrinth of regulations. This bill will streamline current processes to make them more efficient and cost-effective so that this clean, reliable and low-cost energy source can be fully realized.”

The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

In Conclusion

Senator Risch shows no signs of influence through his actions or work in the Senate. In fact, by supporting certain sanctions, geothermal development, and programs for small business, he clearly is not working towards corporate interests. Though he has that questionable history, there are no signs that any of those concerns are valid or demonstrate any problems or concerns.