Gorton Wrongly Attributes
by Charles Pope, Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Slade Gorton yesterday offered what he called "absolute and unequivocal" proof that Vice President Al Gore favors dismantling four dams along the Snake River in the name of saving salmon.
But what Gorton billed as "red meat" in one of the Pacific Northwest's most fiercely debated questions was simply off the mark. The words the Washington state Republican attributed to Gore were actually those of an environmental group that openly supports removing the dams.
Gore "never, ever committed to that," said Courtney Cuff, legislative director for Friends of the Earth, the environmental group whose July questionnaire to the Gore presidential campaign triggered Gorton's claim.
"We would have been joyously endorsing him seconds after that if it were true. But it wasn't," she said.
The Gore campaign agreed, saying Gorton incorrectly attributed words to the vice president that belonged to the environmental group.
"Mr. Gorton has misspoken here," said Tovah Ravitz, a spokeswoman for the Gore campaign.
The dust-up over the document was only part of the struggle yesterday on Capitol Hill over salmon and the Snake River. While he might have stubbed his toe trying to link Gore to dam removal, Gorton succeeded in adding language to a spending bill that would prohibit the government from spending any money to study or plan for dam removal.
Gorton said the provision was necessary to ensure that the government does not move forward on tearing down the dams until studies of all options are complete.
Government officials insist they have no plans to start even preliminary work on dam removal for at least five years, and condemned Gorton's move as inappropriate interference.
"This appropriations rider could undermine . . . salmon recovery efforts by picking apart disfavored aspects of a program that can only succeed if implemented as a cohesive whole," George Frampton, chairman of the president's Council on Environmental Quality, wrote to Gorton.
On both counts, however, Gorton held fast. He cited a July memo from the Gore presidential campaign to Friends of the Earth that responded to questions posed by the group. The document, he said, was taken from the Gore campaign's Web site.
Under the heading, "Environmental Restoration in Our Nation," after the words "Proposed Action," is this statement, in italics: "Announce a decision to remove Snake River dams, which act as a barrier to the restoration of Northwest salmon. In a Gore administration, convene a salmon summit to address the problems and threats to the salmon."
That, Gorton said, "is an absolute and unequivocal statement. It's the only absolute and unequivocal statement that we have ever been able to find on either side of the issue on the part of Al Gore."
But it wasn't. The proposal was from Friends of the Earth. Gore's response followed that, in regular typeface. In that response, Gore gave a version of his standard answer, that "extinction is not an option, nor is massive economic dislocation. If elected, I will convene a salmon summit to bring together all interested parties to find a real solution."
And yesterday, the Gore campaign repeated the position that the vice president has been stating for months: Gore has not endorsed any approach to save salmon in the Snake and Columbia rivers.
Nonetheless, a spokesman for Gorton said later in the day that the senator continued to believe the words were Gore's. "He read the document, and that's what it says," spokesman Todd Young said. "When you read the document, it says it's his priority and his agenda."
The one truth that was unchanged, however, is the political nature of the debate. Gorton, the barge industry, agricultural interests and others in Eastern Washington adamantly oppose tearing down the dams. Taking down the dams, they insist, would destroy an important inland water route, cut electricity production and dry up needed irrigation. Moreover, they insist that salmon can be saved without such a step.
The fear that those arguments will be ignored drove Gorton to offer his amendment, he said.
"I am pleased that my amendment passed and that we will ensure the Clinton-Gore administration is held to its word that no funds will be spent next year for dam removal or efforts to tear down the dams," Gorton said.
Gorton's language touched off a wave of opposition from the administration, environmental groups and other lawmakers.
Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., the senior Democrat on the Interior appropriations committee, argued against it. GOP Rep. George Nethercutt of Spokane supported Gorton.
"The reality of this is, this is a political amendment," Dicks said.
Rep. Jim McDermott and Sen. Patty Murray, both Democrats from Western Washington, also criticized Gorton's addition to the bill.
"The rider . . . will not save a single salmon or a single drop of water for any community in Washington," Murray said. "There is no reason to adopt this rider other than election-year politics."
McDermott called the action "classic Gorton," referring to Gorton's efforts in past years to add controversial items to spending bills, the most famous of which was a provision to grant an operating permit to a Washington state gold mine.
"It is stupid in my view to take off the table any option (for restoring salmon populations). They should all be studied, then we will talk about the options," McDermott said.
Gorton's provision was attached in conference committee to legislation providing money for the Interior Department, various land management agencies, the National Park Service, the Smithsonian Institution and a portion of the Forest Service.
The $18 billion bill is stuffed with noncontroversial items such as $1.8 billion to pay for fighting this year's Western wildfires as well as money for the National Endowment for the Arts and improvements to national parks.
President Clinton renewed his threat yesterday to veto bills that contain anti-environmental provisions.
"Once again, too many of these bills are being watered down and polluted with riders aimed at weakening public health protections, blocking common-sense efforts to combat climate change and surrendering public lands to private interests," he said.
"In the last 24 hours, Congress has added some more of these riders. I've vetoed bills before because they contain them, and if I have to, I'll do it again."
Clinton didn't mention names, but White House officials said Gorton's rider is precisely the kind of item he had in mind.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs