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Commentaries and editorials

Four Governors and Four Dams

by Editors
Seattle Times - June 15, 2003

Having the Northwest's four governors agree salmon recovery can be accomplished without dam breaching is a good start.

The unanimous declaration, something that came only with a new governor in Oregon, is a productive reaction to a federal judge's dismissal of Clinton-era policy for restoring runs of 12 endangered species of Northwest salmon.

Meeting in Boise earlier this month, the governors of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana affirmed the need to support both salmon recovery and low-cost power. Dam breaching has been a distraction.

In public statements and a letter to President Bush, the governors asked all parties to stick with efforts to improve salmon habitat, overhaul hatcheries, aggressively manage harvest and work harder to make the hydroelectric system less of a barrier.

They do not want to see the biological opinions that govern salmon recovery tossed, and they don't want the removal of four dams on the lower Snake River seriously in play.

The show of unity was important, but symbolism has its limits. The message from U.S. District Judge James Redden to NOAA Fisheries is it failed to hold other federal agencies and key outside parties such as the states accountable for their pieces of salmon recovery.

The judge has yet to decide whether the existing biological opinions will be scrapped or remedial efforts will be adequate. NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is gearing up to meet the workload, however it is directed.

To that end, NOAA recently created a specific Recovery Division based in Portland.

Certainly the governors meeting in Idaho did not ante up new pots of money from their meager budgets, so other demonstrations of effort will be required to show their good faith. Lip service will not impress the judge.

They listened and nodded as the Bonneville Power Administration said it would put up less money than many others wanted it to spend on restoration.

BPA offers a tricky calculation for the governors. As much as they want more federal dollars for fish, they do not want BPA's new rates to make regional economic recovery any harder. In their unanimity and silence, the governors were striking the best balance they could muster.

BPA proposes to spend the average of annual past expenditures to save salmon, around $139 million a year. A good water year and strong revenues from power sales outside the region, in areas where natural gas is scarce and expensive, may keep BPA's next wholesale rate increase to less than 10 percent, lower than the 15 percent forecast. BPA will release a preliminary number on Tuesday.

For the governors, the combination balances fish restoration and affordable power.

With dam breaching off the political table, key players can focus on supporting federal fisheries efforts to satisfy a skeptical judge.

Four Governors and Four Dams
Seattle Times Company, June 15, 2003

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