Sen. Craig No Friend to 'Greens' in NWby Joel Connelly
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 30, 2007
The federally funded Fish Passage Center quietly, credibly performed its vital task of counting declining salmon runs in the Columbia-Snake River system, until it stood as a potential obstacle to agencies and politicians running the river.
The Bonneville Power Administration, in 2005, mounted a sustained campaign to stop spring discharge of water over dam spillways -- nicknamed the "fish flush" -- to aid downstream migration of young salmon. The BPA wanted to generate kilowatts for sale to California.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, entered the picture. He inserted "report language" in a Senate energy appropriations bill, directing Bonneville to cut off money to the Fish Passage Center and transfer its functions.
In the uproar after his disorderly conduct conviction, after an encounter at an airport men's room, Craig has been stripped of seniority on the Senate's appropriations, energy and veterans affairs committees.
The Senate's Republican leaders, and GOP brass in Idaho, are likely to force Craig to quit the world's greatest deliberative body -- or at least not seek a fourth term in 2008.
In the meantime, his actions in backrooms of the nation's capital deserve attention. Call it a Craig's List of how to block good deeds, or at least see that they don't go unpunished.
Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., came to politics out of the very conservative Wyoming Farm Bureau and American Farm Bureau. He won a third term in 2006, but collapsed in church the Sunday before the election. He died earlier this year.
Thomas had a warm spot in his heart for a stirring place -- the canyon of the Snake River as it bends around the Teton Mountains and crosses from Wyoming into Idaho. Its headwaters are in Yellowstone National Park.
The canyon has nesting bald eagles and other raptors. Its deep pools and ripples offer some of America's finest fly-fishing. Cottonwoods color the canyon gold each fall.
Before he died, Thomas introduced legislation to protect the Snake River headwaters country under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
In a Democratic-controlled Senate, Craig has single-handedly prevented the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee from taking action on Thomas' bill, which is supported by both Wyoming senators.
Federal land managers have learned of Craig's raw power in the past two decades: He has been a dangerous man to run into.
In 1989, U.S. Forest Service regional forester John Mumma warned agency superiors: Timber quotas in the Northern Rockies could not be met without violating environmental laws and trampling already-approved plans for various national forests.
Craig, a timber industry ally, stepped in with a sharply worded letter to the Forest Service's chief, Dale Robertson.
"It is my hope that you will move to assure that (logging) targets are met and line officers are held accountable," wrote Craig. He demanded quarterly reports on the timber cut.
Mumma was told to jack up the cut. He refused to bend or break environmental laws. The regional supervisor -- the first biologist to hold such a post -- said he was forced out. Offered a desk job in Washington, D.C., he quit the Forest Service. Several national forest supervisors in the region were subsequently purged.
Craig has been at it again recently, offering a little-noticed rider to this year's appropriations bill.
It says the Interior Department should carry out "without further delay" provisions of an Upper Snake River "biological opinion" released in 2005 by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Well, there's a problem: The biological opinion was ruled illegal by U.S. District Judge James Redden. Under orders from Redden, the federal government is about to issue new, more scientific-based (and fish-friendly) plans for the river.
Craig's rider would give federal agencies a Hobson's choice: The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and NMFS could either implement the 2005 plan, and disobey a federal court, or defy Congress' direction by following the new plan they have worked two years to develop.
The obvious intent: cause trouble for the legal process and a conservation-minded judge.
The Fish Passage Center language, inserted by Craig, ultimately cost America's taxpayers a small bundle.
The Bonneville Power Administration gleefully issued a decision eliminating the passage center, and solicited bids for its replacement.
The Yakama Indian Nation and conservation groups went to court: A year after Congress passed Craig's language, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the plaintiffs and told Bonneville to junk its replacement process and put the Fish Passage Center back in business.
The price tag came to at least $1 million, and resulted in a year of confusion, delay and conflict.
As Craig becomes a pariah, his fellow senators -- notably Washington Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell -- ought to look at his Upper Snake River gambit. Implementing the old biological opinion would benefit a small number of Idaho irrigators at the expense of a resource -- salmon -- that helps define the Pacific Northwest.
Sen. Craig's Action Demonstrates Disdain by Jim Miller, Idaho Statesman, 8/12/7
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs