Federal Court Sides with BPA
by Joe Rojas-Burke
A federal court Tuesday rejected claims that the Bonneville Power Administration illegally harmed salmon during the 2001 drought.
Several conservation groups and tribes challenged the BPA after the federal power marketing agency declared an emergency and halted the spilling of water over Columbia and Snake River dams, a practice that helps salmon migrate to sea. Instead, the BPA and fishery authorities stepped up the use of barges to transport young fish downstream.
The suing groups said the decision led to higher death rates for young salmon and steelhead and argued that the BPA failed to meet its legal obligation to balance power production with fish and wildlife conservation.
BPA officials said the combination of drought and soaring wholesale electricity prices limited options in 2001. The BPA distributes about half of the electricity in the Northwest, most of it generated by federally operated dams.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the BPA provided sufficiently equitable treatment and followed proper procedures while responding to the drought and power crisis.
"Petitioners want something more, but our limited judicial powers prevent us from imposing additional procedural requirements," the judges wrote in a 17page opinion.
The groups who joined the lawsuit included the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Nez Perce -- sovereign tribes with treaty rights to salmon -- the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Sierra Club, and the state of Oregon.
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