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Bush Offers his Strongest Defense of Dams Yet

by Jeff Mapes, The Oregonian staff
The Oregonian, September 26, 2000

Speaking in Spokane, the presidential nominee says
breaching would threaten the region's farming economy

SPOKANE -- George W. Bush launched his most fervent defense of the Snake River dams Monday, saying the farm economy of Eastern Oregon and Washington could be threatened if the dams are breached.

Speaking at a boisterous rally in a Spokane airport hangar, the Republican presidential nominee said that Democratic rival Al Gore's only salmon plan is to make it past the election without saying what he would do with the dams.

The Texas governor's tough rhetoric appeared aimed at solidifying his support on the east side of the Cascades in two states that have become increasingly important to the Republican ticket.

"These dams are important for a way of life, Mr. Vice President," Bush said. "You're talking about people's livelihoods -- you're talking about farmers. It shows where your priorities are."

Gore has expressed support for a Clinton administration plan to put off consideration of breaching while other strategies, such as habitat restoration and hatchery reforms, are used to try to restore endangered salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin. But he has not ruled in or out the possibility of at some point supporting the breaching of the four lower Snake River dams.

Bush, in his most scornful description yet of Gore's stance, said "He said, 'I want to study the issue.' No, he wants to study ways to not have to take a position until election day."

Beth Viola, a Gore environmental adviser who worked on the salmon plan for the administration, said the vice president plans to hold a "salmon summit" to implement the Clinton plan if he is elected.

"We support the administration's plan, period," she said, adding that Gore would not turn around after the election and move toward breaching. However, she said breaching could become an option if other efforts to restore salmon runs fail.

"I think Bush is the irresponsible one here by summarily dismissing the idea of breaching dams," Viola said.

But Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., who introduced Bush at the rally and who is equally vociferous about preserving the dams, said economic uncertainty in the region would continue as long as there was uncertainty about the dams' future. "It's time to take dam breaching off the table, lock, stock and barrel, once and for all," he said.

Bush stood on the stage with several workers and farm families he said could be hurt by dam breaching.

"People have been able to make a living off the rivers and co-exist with nature, but I'm afraid that may change," Bush said as he introduced Roger and Mary Dye, third-generation wheat, barley, canola and grass-seed farmers from Pomeroy, Wash.

Bush also said it was foolish to consider breaching the dams at a time when energy prices are high. "And yet there are some who would not tell you whether or not they would breach the dams -- a clean source of energy," he said.

There has been significant dispute about the economic impact of breaching, with many farmers and business people saying it would badly damage the region's economy. The four dams, built between 1961 and 1975, provide about 4 percent of the Northwest's electricity and allow barging as far inland as Lewiston, Idaho.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study found that replacing power lost if the dams were breached would add $1.20 to $6.50 to the average Northwest monthly residential bill of $63.20, an increase of 1.8 percent to 10 percent. Most of the replacement power would be generated with natural gas. By comparison, the national average electric bill is $100.80 a month.

Ed Whitelaw is a University of Oregon economist who did a study for two environmental groups. He said the Corps of Engineers, which operates the dams, found relatively minor job losses -- about 700 jobs in the 25 counties in the lower Snake River area -- and no evidence of increased transportation costs for crops if the four dams were breached

Bush also emphasized his support for people who make their living off the public and private lands of the West in an interview earlier in the day with The Oregonian's editorial board during a stop in Beaverton.

He said, for example, that he wanted to emphasize cooperation, not regulation, in protecting endangered species. He said that's what happened when he agreed to protect stands of cedar on his ranch in Central Texas that could be habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. "It was a cooperative spirit," Bush said, "as opposed to this notion of, 'Here comes the federal government, we're going to affect private property rights.' "

Bush again criticized the Clinton administration for moving to ban road-building on 43 million acres of Forest Service land in the West, and for a series of executive orders creating national monuments on public lands.

"Rather than trying to figure out how to increase more lands on the public rolls," Bush said, "We ought to be figuring out what to do with the lands we now manage."

Although those lands already were owned by the federal government, Bush said he wants to instead emphasize putting another $5 billion into national parks, which he claimed are "in shambles" because of a maintenance backlog.

Bush gave no clue if he would try to reverse Clinton's executive orders on the roadless areas or national parks. "I'll review all executive orders," he said. "That's all I can tell you."

On another issue, Bush said he wanted to split the Immigration and Naturalization Service into two agencies, one to patrol the border and the other to handle immigration services.

He did not refer to the controversy about the handling of immigration cases by the Portland INS office, but he did say the agency nationally must streamline its operations and provide better service.

Jeff Mapes, The Oregonian staff
Bush Offers his Strongest Defense of Dams Yet
The Oregonian, September 26, 2000

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