Power Planning Council Unhappy
by Bill Rudolph
The Northwest Power Planning Council has taken issue with BPA Administrator Steve Wright's answer to a senator's question about the agency's fish and wildlife budget. During a June 4 Senate hearing, Wright said that BPA has increased direct program funding for tribal fish and wildlife projects by 40 percent. The council says that's not the case.
In June 18 letters to Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the council said Wright told committee member Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) that the council had recommended BPA fund more projects than the agency had agreed to support.
"That is not consistent with the facts," the council wrote. "The council has recommended program implementation budgets that are within Bonneville's commitment, and Bonneville has repeatedly confirmed that the council's recommendations were not the cause of the potential to spend more than was planned in 2003. Rather, Bonneville's accumulated outstanding contract obligations caused the problem."
The council's letter pointed out that in December 2001, BPA committed to spending an average of $186 million annually on the F&W program ($150 million for the direct program and $36 million in capital spending). But a year later, because of deteriorating financial conditions, the agency said it had to cap spending of the direct program at $139 million annually over the 2002-2006 period, rather than use it as an average target.
The letter explained the difficulties in absorbing $40 million in prior F&W funding obligations after BPA said it did not have the money to pay for them. The council further pointed out that BPA's commitment to spending $36 million annually on capital projects "has fallen aside as well." BPA has spent less than $6 million on capital projects in 2003, but internal administrative costs have increased from $8 million to $12 million annually.
Council members said they had to write the senators to put on the public record the complexity of BPA's commitment to F&W funding. "In addition, considering Bonneville's failure to carry funds it collected for fish and wildlife purposes into the current contract period, its reduction in capital spending, and the fact that Bonneville's internal costs have escalated significantly, we find the Administrator's statements of a 40-percent increase in spending to be inconsistent with the facts," the council wrote.
As for Wright's comments before the committee, "it was not his intent to blame the council," said Therese Lamb, BPA acting vice president for environment, fish and wildlife. Lamb took issue with the council's contention that funding has not increased, but "flat-lined." She pointed out that direct program expenditures averaged $96 million annually from 1996-2001, were $137 million in 2002 and were coming in at about $139 million this year.
In the June 4 hearing, Sen. Smith asked whether people might have different expectations about "what you [Wright] ought to be doing."
Wright said his agency had disagreed with tribes about funding. "Under the old [memorandum of agreement] we provided $100 million per year to the direct program, the program that I've described here," Wright said. "Under our new rates we are providing $139 million per year--a 40 percent increase in funding.
"Despite that, the Northwest Power Planning Council created a lengthy process to look at potential projects that could be funded and had approved a number of projects that, when we added them up, added up to a lot more than that $140 million a year," Wright said. "So expectations were created in that process that we would provide more money. Given our current financial circumstances, we are not able to provide more than the budgeted amount. So yes, there has been a problem with respect to these different expectations. And why we have some who say we've reduced funding when in our view we've actually increased funding compared to the budgets."
"So your point, your charts I think are telling us that every year you've increased funding--is that accurate?" asked Smith.
"With respect to the direct program, the program that the tribes use, yes, that is accurate," Wright said.
Senator Crapo Wants More Bucks for the BiOp by Bill Rudolph, 6/30/3
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs