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Promoting Idaho's Competitiveness

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A report on PNWER's annual summit from A Seat in the House

The Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) Agreement was enacted in 1991. The PNWER agreement created a regional forum to explore the promotion of northwest regional collaboration and enhance our region’s competitiveness in domestic and international markets. International trade, economic development, human resources, environment and natural resources, energy and education are all areas of PNWER’s consideration. PNWER actions can result in uniform legislation and other policy direction endorsed by the entities involved in the organization.

The U.S. members of the organization are Idaho, Washington, Montana, Oregon and Alaska. The Canadian members are the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon. The organization’s structure consists of a delegate council and an executive committee. Legislators are appointed by participating states and provinces to serve on these committees. The organization also has working groups for various policy areas that include representatives of the private and public sector.

I and five other members of the Idaho legislature serve as Idaho’s delegates to the Delegate Council; I also serve as one of Idaho’s two representatives on the Executive Committee of PNWER. Idaho Representative Max Black, past president of PNWER, also represents Idaho on the Executive Committee.

I have just returned from PNWER’s annual summit meeting held in Calgary on July 13-17. The Summit working group activity emphasized regional energy cooperation and planning, but also included working groups addressing the areas of agriculture, environmental protection, trade and transportation issues as well as border and Homeland security issues as a result of the terrorist attack of September 11th.

The energy emphasis was particularly appropriate as the region attempts to address the issue of energy deregulation and the aftermath of the California experience. Aside from the energy interdependence of the region between the U.S. and Canada I thought readers might be interested in just how mutually dependent the Northwest economy is on the trade relations between our two countries.

The two-way trade in goods and services between Canada and the United States totaled $440 billion in 2002, the largest bilateral exchange between two countries in the world.

Idaho and Canada traded $742 million worth of products and services in 2002. Idaho sold $306 million of various goods to Canada and purchased $436 million worth of goods from that country. Agriculture products were Idaho’s largest export sector to Canada, accounting for 25% of our state’s exports, followed by chemicals as the second largest export.

The state’s biggest import from Canada was forest products totaling $152 million in 2002. Notwithstanding the importance of our trade relations with Canada, our import of such a significant amount of forestry products, especially softwood imports, has created problems for our state’s forestry industry. We have attempted to solve the problem, at least in the short term, through the use of tariffs, but the use of tariffs has created relationship problems for the two countries that need further discussions to resolve. 

There was a proposed resolution during the PNWER conference to dispense with the tariff on softwood imports from Canada, but because of the ramifications to Idaho, I and the other Idaho delegates were successful in defeating the resolution and replacing it with another that encouraged a long-term solution to the forest import issue, but left out the removal of the current tariff as part of the resolution. Our forestry industry is at a disadvantage when competing with Canada and we need to find solutions to the problem that treat both countries equitably.

The Energy Working Group completed their sessions with action items that included recommendations on clean coal development in the region; an education program to educate the legislatures and the public on natural gas issues of demand, supply and pricing; and recommendations on oil production in the region. There was considerable discussion on the Alberta Oil Sands production potential and the role this production will have in ensuring the U.S. a more secure oil and petroleum supply than is present with the imports from the Middle East.

Of particular interest to me as a member of the Idaho Interim Energy Committee were the recommendations relating to electricity issues. The Northwest Power Planning Council provides some regionalized energy planning for the northwest states, but it is becoming more and more obvious we need a comprehensive regional energy planning process that includes both sides of the border and involves all sectors. We need to balance loads with fuel sources and we need to develop flexibility with regard to locations of electric generation plants, fuel sources for the plants, and transmission infrastructure to get the generation output to the load centers. 

We also need to plan infrastructure development that is future-focused even when current realities do not mandate it. 

Production of coal and oil as electric generation fuels dominated the discussion, but I co-chaired the renewable energy and new technology portion of the energy portion of the conference and our working group was able to include the need for development of renewable resources as a part of the regional planning effort to meet our electric energy needs.

In summary, the relationship between Canada and the U.S. is important for both countries economically and is especially important to us in the Pacific Northwest. PNWER serves as an entity to enhance this relationship and provides a forum to discuss issues and solutions to problems that impact our relations. Idaho is served well by being involved in the PNWER organization.

Thanks for reading and as always feel free to contact me anytime. My home address is P.O. Box 112, Dover, 83825 and my home phone is 265-0123. George

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Rep. George Eskridge Rep. George Eskridge the Republican Representative for District 1 in Idaho’s House, George Eskridge can be reached at 208-265-0123 or write PO Box 112, Dover, ID 83825

Tagged as:

energy, PNWER, A Seat in the House, energy deregulation, international trade, Energy Working Group

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