In Idaho, policymakers are at the very early stages of talking about the risks of climate change. I’ve participated in these conversations as they take shape, but that work is happening at much too slow of a pace, and politics keep delaying real progress. The threats are very real for all of us — no matter one’s political party — and our children and grandchildren will pay the price if we don’t address this issue.

The Idaho Legislature is past the time of total denial, but most of our efforts so far have been to mitigate the current impacts of climate change on the state. Idaho agriculture, especially in the south, is dependent on a reliable supply of water and water storage to deliver water to crops when most needed. Loss of snowpack and early runoff places larger risks on agriculture. How will our farmers combat these changes? This year we committed to spend $325 million through 2027 on water storage enhancements.

We are also spending more each year on fighting and trying to prevent forest fires. In 2022, we spent $80 million on direct firefighting costs, a fourfold increase from the previous year, and we added almost $6 million to the fire operating budget. Money aside, our summers have become more and more plagued with smoke, reducing our enjoyment of the outdoors — the very thing that brings or keeps many of us in Idaho. By 2050, Idaho’s annual burn amount is projected to double or triple if we don’t act. Even now, August already seems lost to the smoke. Could this lead to us losing the entire summer?

Senate Bill 1319, which I sponsored, did pass this year. It allows school districts to participate in the federal clean school bus program, which helps Idaho school districts buy electric and other clean-fuel school buses. This is a low-risk step to take. All the major school bus manufacturers produce electric buses, which have the safety and weather features we need in Idaho, and charging infrastructure can easily be added to school bus garages. Best of all, school districts will save significantly on fuel and maintenance costs. I encourage people to urge their local districts to use these grants and update the schools’ fleet with electric school buses.

Idaho needs to be more proactive in other areas of climate change mitigation. The Idaho Transportation Department must work aggressively and use federal and state dollars to add charging stations along our highways. Traveling from Boise to Coeur d’Alene should not involve a trip through Oregon and Washington to charge up. There are also big opportunities for Idaho forestry and agriculture to modify some of their practices to store carbon and earn a secondary income stream doing so.

Idaho is at just the beginning of dealing with climate change risks and to date, cities and counties are the ones leading the charge. As citizens, I urge you to speak to your legislators, both state and federal, and share your expectations about their role in dealing with this threat. This does not have to be an ideological war. The future of our children and grandchildren, Republican, Democrat, Independent, and everything between, is on the line. We can find solutions across party lines to our mutual benefit — the time is now.

Sen. Nelson, D-Moscow, is in his secondterm in the Idaho Senate representing District 5 in northern Idaho. He is running for his third term in the new District 6.

Recommended for you