the film
Commentaries and editorials

Activists Drop the Carrot,
Use Threat of Litigation as a Stick

by C.L. ’Butch’ Otter
Guest Opinion, The Idaho Statesman, November 20, 2003

Congressman Butch Otter, R-ID An Idaho Rivers United leader ripped me in The Statesman on Nov. 13 for opposing an attempt to hijack Idaho´s water. Using the Endangered Species Act as a weapon, his scheme is to ransom all the water in the Snake River Basin for the breaching of what he calls “four low-value dams in Washington.”

Here´s how I read the criticism: Otter won´t trade Idaho´s water for advocacy science and pie-in-the-sky economic claims. Shocking!

Well, I´m guilty as charged. But I´m in pretty good company. Lots of Idahoans are on the receiving end these days as environmental extremists tar anyone disagreeing with their salmon restoration plans.

Their latest maneuver is an Oct. 30 motion filed with a federal judge in Portland, Ore. In it, environmentalists demand the entire Columbia and Snake river system, from the Pacific to Wyoming´s Jackson Lake, be included in a revised biological opinion detailing what federal regulators must do for salmon and steelhead recovery.

That means they want all the water in the Snake River Basin made available for saving wild fish runs. The motion asks U.S. District Judge James Redden to require the government to “employ a definition of the action area in its revised opinion that recognizes the full extent of the direct and indirect effects on the listed species of hydrosystem operations.”

That might be just so much legalese to most people. But to water users — and that´s all of us — it doesn´t get much scarier. It´s a direct and imminent threat to our state sovereignty and the livelihoods and property rights of hundreds of thousands of individual Idahoans.

Think this is just a rural problem? Think you´re safe in the city? Think again.

United Water Idaho in Boise put it well: “The economic vitality required to induce investment, create jobs and valley growth is directly tied to a reliable municipal water supply. The economic impact will be enormous if development is curtailed by moratorium or some other means due to municipal water shortfalls.”

That´s what happens when misguided activists drop the carrot of collaboration and start using the Endangered Species Act as a big stick.

Making matters worse are the clumsy attempts by the groups involved to make us think they´re harmless.

Sen. Mike Crapo staked his reputation and credibility on organizing talks between environmentalists and water users to keep the issue out of court. However, it seems pretty clear now that while the enviros were giving lip service to negotiation, they were plotting their next legal move. I think they owe the senator and water users an apology.

The Idaho Conservation League is staying out of this one, to its credit. But other environmental groups once again are using the most effective tools at their disposal: A volatile and corrosive mixture of activist judges and a once well-intentioned law that now sacrifices common sense and broader human interests for a strict code of biological diversity.

Still, the Coalition for Idaho Water remains ready for meaningful negotiations. I have my own opinions about what should be on the table, and it doesn´t include any of Idaho´s water beyond a willing-buyer, willing-seller process.

For now, it´s important that more people start seeing this entire campaign for what it is — a cynical exercise in legislation by litigation.

Idahoans who understand the stakes can see for themselves who the extremists really are.

C.L. ’Butch’ Otter
Activists Drop the Carrot, Use Threat of Litigation as a Stick
The Idaho Statesman, November 20, 2003

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