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Democrats Propose Breaching Study

by Les Blumenthal, Herald Washington, D.C., bureau
Tri-City Herald, July 28, 2000

WASHINGTON -- Republicans Texas Gov. George Bush and Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington need to step up and offer their own plan for saving salmon without breaching four Snake River dams, Democrats said, or lower their voices and not criticize an administration proposal released Thursday.

Gorton, however, showed no sign of backing off as the campaign rhetoric sharpened and the administration released a plan in Portland, which allows for an engineering study of breaching the lower Snake River dams in Eastern Washington but puts off a decision for at least five years.

Instead of focusing immediately on dam breaching, the administration proposed a plan that includes increasing stream flows in tributaries of the Columbia and Snake rivers to help the endangered runs; improvements in salmon habitat on federal, state and private lands; a freeze on current fishing levels; and changes in the existing hatchery system.

"This is a scientifically credible, legally defensible and biologically sound plan," said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash. "Administration critics should either present a credible nonbreach alternative or lower their voices."

Dicks left little doubt he was talking about Bush and Gorton, who oppose dam breaching, as did Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., during a speech on the Senate floor.

"Unfortunately, we've heard too many people who only say what they don't want to happen, who only seek to place blame, who heighten the rhetoric, who lead by creating fear rather than hope, and who never commit to a plan," Murray said. "Saying 'no' to everything, without offering a constructive plan, is not leadership."

Gorton, the leading critic of the administration's salmon programs on Capitol Hill, said he would block any congressional funding for a dam breaching engineering study, hinting he may seek such a ban by adding a provision to the Interior spending bill.

"This long-awaited decision on salmon and dams is nothing more than cover for Vice President Al Gore, who continues to duck the issue despite the overwhelming opposition of the people of the Northwest," Gorton said in a statement.

The senator said even though the administration wants to delay a final decision for five years, it clearly has decided to move forward on dam breaching.

"I'm disappointed that this administration has chosen to keep dam breaching on the table," Gorton said.

As for his own plan, Gorton's press secretary, Cynthia Bergman, said the senator worked to end federal control and adopt a local approach to restoring the runs, begun a program to reform hatcheries, funneled millions of dollars to the region for salmon restoration and called on the administration to propose specific, numerical recovery goals for the fish.

"What's the Democratic plan -- elect Al Gore?" Bergman said.

Other Republican politicians also attacked the administration's plan.

"I'm disappointed -- but not surprised -- by the salmon recovery plan released today," said Rep. Doc Hastings, D-Wash. "It's clear the Clinton-Gore administration is still trying to have it both ways. While the administration claims dam breaching is off the table, today's plan leaves the door open for breaching."

Elsewhere, environmentalists, the tribes and river users all blasted the administration's draft proposal.

"This plan is dead on arrival, just like the salmon will be unless it requires automatic removal of the dams in 2005," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers.

"Sound science supports it, the American people want it, our treaty obligations commit us to it and the courts are going to demand it," said Carl Pope, the Sierra Club's executive director.

Tribal leaders said the administration proposal might force them to ask a federal judge to protect their fishing rights.

Antone Minthorn, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said he told George Frampton, the president's top environmental adviser, the proposal leaves him with but "one choice, to fight back to defend my people, my religion and my culture. Today is a dark day in the history of this great country."

Les Blumenthal, Herald Washington, D.C., bureau
Democrats Propose Breaching Study
Tri-City Herald, July 28, 2000

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