Democrats Seek to Overturn
by Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho -- Eight Democrats in Congress are asking a House committee to save an Oregon-based salmon research program that an Idaho senator has targeted for elimination.
Washington Gov. Christine O. Gregoire, a Democrat, is also calling for rescue of the Fish Passage Center in Portland, Ore., a federal agency with 11 employees and an annual budget of $1.3 million.
The center analyzes data on the effectiveness of the federal government's multibillion-dollar effort to save wild salmon. Although the Bonneville Power Administration covers the center's costs, it is managed by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, contends the agency's work duplicates other federal programs and that it has become a tool of environmentalists lobbying to remove hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and lower Snake rivers.
The dams are blamed for hampering the migration of 12 salmon and steelhead species in the Columbia River Basin that are listed as threatened or endangered.
In June, U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland, Ore., ordered the Bush administration to spill additional water through four Columbia and Snake dams to aid seaward migration of young salmon.
The ruling angered Craig, who then inserted a provision into the fiscal 2006 energy-spending bill to prevent the Bonneville Power Administration, the agency that sells the electricity generated by federal dams, from funding the Fish Passage Center next year. The measure was passed by the Senate, but the House-passed version does not include that language. A conference committee is expected to begin meeting after Congress returns from its August recess to hammer out differences between the two bills.
"With so much uncertainty surrounding salmon recovery presently and in the future, now is simply not the time to curtail agency access to the best available science," says a July 20 letter to the Republican chairman and the ranking Democratic member of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. The letter, circulated by Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., also was signed by Democrats Jim McDermott, Jay Inslee, Brian Baird and Rick Larsen of Washington and Earl Blumenauer, David Wu and Darlene Hooley of Oregon.
In a July 15 letter to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who, like Craig, is a member of the Senate energy appropriations subcommittee, Gregoire wrote that striking Craig's provision from the spending bill "would remove a contentious issue and allow us to focus on finding effective solutions to salmon recovery."
Craig spokesman Dan Whiting said the senator intends to fight efforts to strip his Fish Passage Center language from the final spending bill. In a July 20 letter to the Idaho Statesman newspaper, Craig said he's just trying to avoid wasting taxpayer money. (bluefish notes: the Fish Passage Center is paid for by the region's electricity rate payers, not by the taxpayer as Senator Craig implies)
"The University of Washington's Columbia Basin research program manages almost all the same data as the FPC (Fish Passage Center) at no cost to federal taxpayers," Craig wrote. "The FPC meets the exact description of a redundant federal program."
Michelle DeHart, director of the Fish Passage Center, says Craig and other Republicans were unhappy that center data on fish survival was used by Redden in an earlier opinion that rejected a Bush administration plan to balance Bonneville Power Administration power generation needs with salmon recovery programs.
Craig has attacked Redden as an activist judge whose spill order will increase electrical rates in the Pacific Northwest. Redden served as a Democratic legislator, state treasurer and attorney general in Oregon before his 1980 appointment to the federal bench by President Carter.
"If he believes that the states' and federal government's efforts to recover salmon are so inadequate, perhaps Redden should have stayed in the Oregon Legislature to make policy, rather than legislating from the federal bench," Craig wrote to the newspaper.
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