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Salmon Groups Blast Gorton's Action on Dams

by Karen Mockler
The Daily Astorian, September 28, 2000

Washington senator tries to block funding for dam study

From sea to shining sea, U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton is making his presence felt this week, both in the nation's capital and along the Columbia River.

Gorton, R-Wash., announced Tuesday that he has secured funding to put back into motion a plan to deepen the Columbia River shipping channel (see related story). And a rider he attached last week to the FY 2001 Interior Appropriations bill is still standing, after negotiators gave up Wednesday evening on extracting it and several other anti-environmental riders from the critical spending bill.

Gorton's rider would block expenditure of funds to dismantle dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers as an option for restoring depleted salmon populations. Further, it would prevent funding to study or analyze plans to remove the dams, effectively thwarting any future activity on the issue.

Local salmon advocates, along with some Northwestern politicians, have voiced their dismay.

"My biggest concern with the rider is that all of sudden, Gorton has put himself in the position that he knows more about salmon than the scientists who have been studying this for years," said Lovenia Warren, director of Astoria-based Salmon For All.

"This move by Gorton is absolutely the most arrogant thing I've every witnessed," she added. "He's elevating himself to a position where he says, 'I get to choose, and I choose not to take out the dams.'"

Rather than taking "a good hard luck at what science has produced," Gorton's last-minute move is "a temper tantrum," she said.

"He just doesn't like the answers," she said, referring to existing studies on the question of dam removal and more generally, on how best to recover endangered salmon. But it's impossible to do the best science when you can't even mention breaching, Warren said

A number of Northwest elected leaders have publicly opposed Gorton's rider as well, calling it bad process and bad politics. Representatives Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Darlene Hooley, D-Ore., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and David Wu, D-Ore., are among those who signed letters to the President opposing Gorton's rider. Gov. John Kitzhaber has also opposed it.

Once the House and Senate passed their versions of the bill, it went to conference committee, which sorts out differences in the two versions before a bill goes to the president. That's where the bill has been for the last week - and where the rider was inserted.

That maneuver has been increasingly rife in the last few years.

"This year has just been worse than ever," said Justin Hayes of American Rivers, who follows the legislative process from Washington, D.C. "It's the sort of proverbial behind-closed doors, smoke-filled room deal-making you see movies about - and it actually goes on!"

The bill contains a lot of pork - funding for many local projects that politicians desperately want for their constituents - and that's the strategy behind riders such as Gorton's, a strategy many people deplore.

"Slade Gorton is infamous for these riders," said Chris Zimmer, media director for Seattle-based Save Our Wild Salmon. "When he can't get his way through the regular democratic processes, he tries this as an end run.

"Slade Gorton has consistently said, we need to let the people of the Northwest make this decision. That's fine. Putting a rider on an appropriations bill in the dark of night is not fine."

It's not a question of whether dam removal is the way to go, Zimmer said, but keeping open the discussion. Gorton can't just unilaterally take that discussion off the table.

For better or worse, Gorton's rider focuses more attention on the issue - and on him - in the political arena. Gorton is running for re-election this fall in a heated race against Democrat Maria Cantwell.

The committee report could be finalized as early as today. But it must be signed into law by President Clinton, who has said he would veto legislation it if contained anti-environmental riders.

"It's veto bait," Zimmer said.

Karen Mockler
Salmon Groups Blast Gorton's Action on Dams
The Daily Astorian, September 28, 2000

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