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Congressman Endorses Breaching Dams

by John Hughes, Associated Press
Spokesman Review, March 3, 2000

New Mexico's Udall first representative to publicly back Snake River removals

His endorsement comes two weeks after Oregon Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber became the first major elected official in the Pacific Northwest to endorse removing the earthen portions of the Little Goose, Lower Monumental, Ice Harbor and Lower Granite dams to help revive salmon populations.

Environmentalists say that while some Congress members have informally signaled support for dam breaching, Udall is the first to take such a stance publicly.

His action helps solidify dam breaching as a national -- not a regional -- issue and could prompt other Congress members to support breaching, environmentalists say.

"This issue is going to come just like a dam collapsing," said Justin Hayes of the Washington, D.C., group American Rivers. "There's a crack, then there's water showing, and then it is washed away."

The move is also viewed as an easy way for the freshman to curry favor with environmentalists. Udall's New Mexico district won't suffer the economic consequences of lost hydropower and lost navigation if the dams are breached.

"This is a free green vote," said Bruce Lovelin of the Columbia River Alliance, a river industries group in Portland, Ore.

But Michael Stewartt, who with other environmentalists pressed Udall to take the stand, said the move is courageous because he could face political punishment from others in Congress.

"He knows a lot of his congressional colleagues from Washington state and Oregon and Idaho are maybe not going to be real thrilled with him," said Stewartt, president of Wild Angels in Santa Fe, N.M.

Federal agencies are conducting studies and public hearings on salmon issues that should result in a recommendation this year on breaching the dams, keeping the status quo or taking other steps to help salmon.

Congress would need to approve dam breaching, however.

Most congressional Democrats from the region -- including those with solid reputations as environmentalists such as Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. -- say they want to wait until federal studies are complete before making a decision.

Republicans, meanwhile, are waging an aggressive defense of the dams.

Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, Gordon Smith, R-Ore., and Slade Gorton, R-Wash., all pressed Energy Secretary Bill Richardson on Thursday to protect the dams.

Richardson, who appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has only an indirect role in the dam-breaching issue.

The Energy Department includes the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets power from the dams.

But after being pressed on the issue -- and acknowledging his relatively minor role -- he told Smith, "I will engage myself in this debate because it does have energy implications."

John Hughes , Associated Press
Congressman Endorses Breaching Dams
Spokesman Review, March 3, 2000

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