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Escalating the Salmon Wars

by Editorial Board
Idaho Falls Post Register, June 29, 2005

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, doesn't like the message -- so he's killing the messenger.

Craig's miffed at U.S. District Judge James Redden, of Portland, Ore. Earlier this month, the federal judge invalidated the Bush administration's flawed plan to save salmon and steelhead from extinction -- and ordered the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration to spill water over four dams on the Lower Snake River this summer.

That will help juvenile chinook reach the Pacific -- it's better than barging juvenile fish around the dams -- but it means losing water that would otherwise generate electricity and revenues for the BPA.

Craig's upset, but fellow Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo supported spillage.

So here's how Craig will get even: He's pursuing a rider to eliminate the 11-person staff at the Fish Passage Center. This is the office that records how well -- or poorly -- the fish runs are doing.

The agency supplied the data on which Redden relied.

Last week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also denied the government's emergency appeal.

This is the third time the federal courts have ruled the administration's recovery plan -- part of which refused to even consider breaching four fish-killing dams on the Lower Snake -- violated the Endangered Species Act.

Instead of ratcheting up the rhetoric in the stalemate over the Northwest's fish, why not negotiate?

Why not call for a conference of all interested parties? Have them meet together. Encourage them to find a solution -- something that could work for everyone.

Craig rails against the economic impact of Redden's order. And it's true: spilling water rather than running it through turbines will cost Northwest consumers about $67 million. But the course we're on is costing the taxpayer and the region's economy millions as well:

Redden's decision could be the catalyst toward an open, all-parties-at-the-table dialogue to find a reasonable road map for recovery.

And Craig could be just the man to make this happen. He could call for a conference and lead the region forward toward a solution. Instead of continuing to contribute toward the stalemate about salmon, Idaho's senior senator could make a statesmanlike move.

J. Robb Brady

Larry Craig's response
By Larry Craig, July 7, 2005

Cutting funding for the Fish Passage Center isn't about retaliating for a federal judge's ruling on salmon recovery. It's about cutting duplication and waste in government spending, writes Larry Craig.

As Idaho's senior senator, I have never expected everyone to agree with every position or action I take. I accept differences of opinion, as long as they are informed and well-reasoned. Retired Post Register Publisher J. Robb Brady's recent editorial "Escalating the salmon wars" (June 29) unfortunately, does not meet those criteria.

Let me start by presenting a few useful facts that did not appear in Brady's piece.

The Bonneville Power Administration spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year on costs associated with fish and wildlife recovery efforts. For every $1 the BPA charges ratepayers for electricity, roughly 25 cents (bluefish corrects this to 22.5 cents and notes that fuel costs are zero.) go to paying for these recovery costs. To his credit, Brady mentions that the BPA's annual budget is $3.3 billion. What he doesn't mention is that up to $750 million (bluefish corrects this to $600 million) of that amount is spent on the recovery of salmon and other species.

The BPA's fish and wildlife costs are climbing every year. Like private businesses, I believe government agencies ought to re-examine their costs and expenditures before sticking ratepayers with the higher costs. The cumulative effect of these ever-increasing energy costs is a huge drag on the Northwest's economy.

To address this problem, the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development directed the BPA to no longer spend any of its budget to fund the Fish Passage Center (bluefish notes that this budget is just $1.6 million). I and others on the committee will continue to urge the BPA to re-examine all of its fish and wildlife costs (not just the money going to the FPC), to eliminate inefficient or redundant programs from its budget.

Brady's piece claims I am "pursuing a rider to eliminate" the FPC. This is inaccurate reporting. First, calling this FPC language a "rider" suggests that I am trying to attach the language to an unrelated bill. The BPA's budget is always a significant part of the Energy and Water appropriations bill, so the FPC language is directly relevant. There is no problem here.

Second, the committee included this FPC language in the bill already, so there is no need to amend the bill to add what it already contains.

I can only assume that the term "rider" was inserted simply to add to the overall negative and accusatory tone of the piece.

You see, the FPC does not actually conduct research or gather data independently. It is an agency that merely analyzes data collected by other state and federal agencies, and there are many experts who believe this data analysis could be just as easily and efficiently conducted by those state and federal agencies. The University of Washington's Columbia Basin Research program manages almost all the same data as the FPC, at no cost to federal taxpayers. (bluefish notes that the FPC does not currently cost the taxpayer anything. The FPC is funded entirely by BPA electricity ratepayers.)

The FPC meets exactly the description of a redundant federal program that I described above. I hope that Brady is not suggesting Congress abandon its responsibility to make sure federal agencies spend taxpayer dollars wisely.

Finally, Brady's piece starts off with the claim that "Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, doesn't like the message, so he's killing the messenger." This unattributed passage is strikingly similar to the words of the manager of the FPC, who recently said in a Washington Post article, "Maybe this is one of those deals where when you don't like the message, you kill the messenger."

Brady also fails to mention that some very well-qualified government scientists and officials, including Bob Lohn, the regional administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, disagree with the FPC's assertions about salmon recovery.

Now, I never went to journalism school, but it seems to me that newspapers should avoid repeating the words of others without acknowledging who said them or at least mentioning the organization they represent. And they also should think twice before passing off one side's argument as undisputed fact, when that is not the case. (bluefish notes this was an opinion piece.)

Post Register readers deserve to know the truth, and the whole truth. If they don't read the truth, well, that's a shame.

Craig, R-Idaho, is serving his third term in the U.S. Senate. You can write to him at 520 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Post Register editorial board members are Roger Plothow, publisher; J. Robb Brady, publisher emeritus; Marty Trillhaase, Opinions page editor; and Dean Miller, managing editor.
Escalating the Salmon Wars
Post Register, June 29, 2005

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