Former Idaho Governor Phil Batt, a Republican known for signing an agreement with the federal government to remove nuclear waste from his state, died at home Saturday. He was 96.
In a statement announcing Batt’s death, Gov. Brad Little called him “the epitome of a public servant”.
“His legacy is marked by his relentless leadership for human rights, determined fiscal conservatism and enduring love for Idaho,” Little said of Batt, who served one term as governor from 1995-1999.
Philip Eugene Batt was born on a small farm several miles from Wilder, a farming town in southwestern Idaho. After graduating from high school there, he served in the U.S. Army during World War II. An onion grower, he entered politics when he was elected to the Idaho State House in 1965 and served in the state House of Representatives and the state Senate for the next 18 years.
At a 2019 event honoring Batt, Butch Otter, also a former governor of Idaho, called him “a rare leader who transcends political ideology.”
As a legislator, Batt pushed to create a state human rights commission, an accomplishment that became more notable when white supremacist groups made northern Idaho a hotbed of hate group activity in the 1980s and ’90s.
Batt also supported laws guaranteeing a minimum wage for farmworkers and, as governor, covered Hispanic farmworkers under Idaho’s workers’ compensation program; a position that put him at odds with many in the agricultural industry he rose from and which dominates the state landscape.
“He was right, we were wrong,” said Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke, a southern Idaho rancher whom Batt once appointed to a land management commission, told the Idaho Statesman.
“A man of fairness and decency, Governor Batt served our community with a commitment to protecting our lands, championing human rights and ensuring fiscal responsibility,” Bedke said in a statement.
Batt was elected Idaho’s first Republican governor in 28 years in 1994, ushering in a shift in state politics, ahead of three more Republican governors and no Democrats.
His most lasting legacy as governor is a 1995 agreement with the federal government on the planned removal of spent fuel and nuclear waste from the Idaho National Laboratory. The presence of environmentally hazardous nuclear waste has been the subject of lawsuits and political debate in Idaho since the activity increased in the 20th century. The laboratory sits atop an aquifer west of Idaho Falls that serves half the state’s population and millions of acres of irrigated farmland.
What became known as the Batt agreement allowed the Energy Department to temporarily store spent fuel and required it to remove waste by 2035, with few exceptions. Although the agreement has been amended several times, sparking a recall attempt and ballot initiative seeking to repeal it, it remains in effect and is now widely considered to prevent Idaho from becoming a high-level nuclear waste repository.
Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo said in a statement that Batt’s “long friendship and mentorship to me helped guide my professional and personal life.”
“Idaho Governor Phil Batt will be remembered as a strong and caring leader, dedicated to the people of Idaho and advancing human rights in the state,” Crapo said.