By BRIAN WALKER
Hagadone News Network
COEUR d'ALENE — U.S. Sen. Jim Risch doesn't believe America's sizzling economy is about to cool off.
"I don't see that coming," the Idaho Republican told the Hagadone News Network editorial board on Thursday afternoon.
With unemployment being at a 50-year low and a high growth rate in wages and income, Risch said he expects more of the same economic results in the foreseeable future.
"There are people who, every time there's a hiccup, they write the doomsday article," he said. "The door does swing both ways. They may be right — eventually — but not today."
Risch said he plans to formally announce next week that he'll seek a third term in Congress.
"My health is good," the 76-year-old former governor and lieutenant governor of Idaho said.
Risch said he's looking forward to finding co-sponsors for a bill he recently introduced with Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, called the Enhancing Geothermal Production on Federal Lands Act.
The bill would streamline the permitting process for geothermal energy projects and bring geothermal to parity with oil and gas exploration on public lands.
"Geothermal energy is an underutilized resource," Risch said.
With 90 percent of geothermal resources located on federal lands, almost all geothermal projects are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process.
Most geothermal exploration wells require an Environmental Assessment (EA) to be filed before exploration begins. The EA process for geothermal projects averages 10 months, meaning interested parties must wait nearly a year to determine if a viable geothermal resource even exists.
The bill would require the secretary of Interior to identify priority areas for geothermal development on federal lands within five years of the enactment of the bill. It would also allow for geothermal development on lands already leased for oil and gas development.
Risch, who also spoke to the Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce about the free market system on Thursday, said the bill would streamline current processes to make them more efficient and cost-effective so the reliable and low-cost energy source can be fully realized.
The senator last month was presented with the 2019 U.S. Nuclear Energy Distinguished Leadership Award from the U.S. Nuclear Industry Council. He has been an advocate for the Idaho National Laboratory in the U.S. Senate.
Risch was elected chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations earlier this year. He's the third Idaho senator to serve as chairman of the committee.
He said that assignment keeps him hopping.
"There's 200 countries and there isn't one that doesn't have significant issues," he said. "They all want to meet with me separately."
Risch, also former chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, recently chose Empire Airlines of Hayden as the Idaho Small Business of the Month for August. He said that the company founded in 1977 as Clearwater Flying Service is a perfect example of Idaho’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Empire started with fire patrol and transporting backcountry hunters and anglers, but today the international air carrier focuses on cargo, heavy maintenance repair and assisting airline startups.