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Gorton's Dam Defense Heads for President

by Mike Lee
Tri-City Herald, September 30, 1999

Sen. Slade Gorton won a round of dam poker this week - unless the Clinton administration was just waiting to see his hand.

A spending bill that would prevent the Bonneville Power Administration from raising rates to pay for lower Snake dam breaching is headed for the president's desk, and Gorton's staff hasn't heard threats from the White House that it will try to force the Washington Republican to remove his dam amendment.

If it passes, "BPA ... will not get one extra dime as a down payment for dam removal unless Congress and the people of the region authorize such action," Gorton said, noting the amendment doesn't prevent BPA from recovering other fish-recovery costs when it sets its rates for 2001 to 2006.

This winter, federal agencies are supposed to say whether they want the lower Snake Dams to stay or go in what promises to be one of the most controversial environmental decisions in Northwest history.

Gorton, a staunch defender of the dams, proclaimed his bill language a victory for the region, a view not shared by all. "Many ratepayers in the Northwest are worried their bills might grow to pay for the removal of dams on the lower Snake River," he said. "In light of the agenda of the Clinton-Gore administration and their hostility toward rural America, I completely understand their concern."

Last year, the administration battled Gorton for weeks over the authority to breach federal dams. Gorton wanted to make it clear the power only rested with Congress, an attempt the White House rebuffed.

When Gorton announced his intent this summer to prevent BPA from collecting a dam-breaching "slush fund," many river watchers expected another long battle.

So far this fall, all's been quiet on the Western front.

"If it's happening right now, it's happening behind closed doors," said Chris Zimmer at Save Our Wild Salmon, a Seattle-based environmental group. "We don't really see as much of the strong opposition from the Clinton administration as we did last year, which is kind of disappointing."

Environmental groups remain concerned Gorton's amendment will prevent BPA from saving for what they see as the best way to recover struggling salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia Basin.

"He's just inhibiting prudent planning," Zimmer said of Gorton. "There may be ways around (the amendment) in the future, but why add another headache to an already complex situation?"

Related Links:
Gorton Blasts Dam Removal
Gorton: No Slush Fund for Dam Removal

Mike Lee
Gorton's Dam Defense Heads for President
Tri-City Herald- September 30, 1999

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