Critics Contest Dam Plan in Northwest
by Colin Miner
New York Times, October 9, 2009
The Obama administration's new plan to show that salmon and hydroelectric dams can coexist along the Columbia and Snake Rivers is not all that different from the Bush administration's old plan, according to critics who want a federal judge to rule against it.
"It is a great disappointment to watch the new administration break its vow to restore science to its rightful place in the decision-making process," Oregon Attorney General John Kroger wrote in a filing on Wednesday.
Mr. Kroger's filing asks the judge, James Redden, to reject the government's plan, which would keep the eight contested hydroelectric plants that now produce power on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Oregon and Idaho. The government argues that the dams can coexist with salmon and steelhead that have become endangered or threatened, and that the dams should be breached only as a last resort.
"Oregon thought perhaps the administration's review would bring meaningful improvements, and put a stop to the endless cycle of litigation," Mr. Kroger wrote. "That has not occurred."
Oregon, along with the Nez Perce tribe and a coalition of environmental groups, wants Judge Redden to rule that the federal government has failed to live up to its obligations under the Endangered Species Act, the parameters of which require the government to make sure the dams do not endanger the 13 populations of salmon and steelhead that live in the rivers.
The plan's critics hoped the Obama administration would back away from the plan put forth by the Bush administration, which the judge has in the past lambasted for "treading water and avoiding their obligations." Those critics are seeking a plan that would include more comprehensive research and monitoring of fish populations and substantial contingency actions -- such as breaching the dams -- that are ready to be carried out.
In their filing this week, the Nez Perce argued that instead of dealing with the question of whether an action will lead to recovery of the species, the government lowered the standard as to whether the species will survive.
"The tribe is alarmed by the real world consequences," wrote David Cummings and Geoffrey Whiting, both lawyers for the tribe.
The tribe also criticized the plan's listing of consideration of breaching the dams as a contingency of last resort, calling it "cynical."
"Federal defendants have created a contingency that can never be evaluated on a purely biological basis, that will remain politically paralyzed, and that will never be deployable in time to be of value to any species," the Nez Perce lawyers wrote.
The government has until Oct. 23 to file a rebuttal.
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