Salmon Advocates Act on Fears
by Rocky Barker
The way the salmon advocates see it, the Obama Administration decided July 29 how it was going proceed with the salmon and dam plan before U.S. District Judge James Redden.
But instead of sharing their plans with Oregon, the Nez Perce tribes and other groups that had challenged the previous federal plan in court, it asked Redden to give it until Sept. 15 to bring the plan back to the court. Justice Department attorney Coby Howell said they wanted to see whether they could find common ground with people who sued them.
Redden granted the administration's request within hours Monday and a day later angry environmentalists, fishermen, sporting industry representatives, Oregon and the Nez Perce formally asked the judge to hold a "status conference" to reveal what's going on.
Redden denied the request Wednesday.
They reacted so quickly because they had indications that the Obama administration wasn't interested in their views. Whether it is, will be apparent pretty quick.
The administration drafted an "options memo" that on July 29 had four options for response to Redden, e-mails obtained by attorneys for salmon advocates showed.
These four options were never shared with the advocates and they told Redden in their filing that the lack of discussions on these issues demonstrated there was no serious effort to modify the current biological opinion. We still don't know today what these options are.
We can guess some. Move into settlement talks, stick with the current plan and make Redden toss it, Incorporate the concerns of especially Oregon, which had a detailed plan of its own, start all over.
"The options developed were presented and discussed only within the federal agencies and administration and even then only in the context of a largely one-sided and incomplete articulation of the controversy surrounding the 2008 BiOp – one that more resembled a lobbying effort than an objective assessment," the advocates attorneys said in their filing."
The angry reaction shows that salmon advocates intend to continue their efforts in court. The regional lobbying efforts led brilliantly by the Bonneville Power Administration's Steve Wright, have apparently convinced the administration to stand by the collaborative deal he negotiated with everyone but Oregon, the Nez Perce and the rest of the salmon coalition. He likely had the support of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, the former governor of Washington and Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, perhaps the strongest opponent to dam breaching in Washington D.C.
But we still don't know whether the administration intends to address the legal and scientific issues Redden raised in his letter in May. The biggest issue is whether it will stick with its "trending-towards-recovery" jeopardy standard or use the stricter standard used in the biological opinion for the Sacramento River.
The biological opinion's role is to determine if a federal action, like operating the dams is jeopardizing the existence of endangered species so the jeopardy standard is at the heart of the law.
The legal actions of the last two days suggest the Obama administration is handing the issue back to Redden to resolve. They are apparently rejecting the option of seeking to expand the collaborative efforts that brought all the region's sovereign powers but the Nez Perce tribes and Oregon on board.
So the view of the salmon advocates is best stated in the words of the Who.
"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
Whether that turns out to be true may be revealed in the next few days or weeks.
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