Gore: Stance on Breaching No 'Bait and Switch' Planby Jeff Mapes, The Oregonian staff
The Oregonian, September 1, 2000
The candidate knocks Oregon's pending anti-homosexual vote
while favoring turning Western lands into national monuments
SEATTLE -- Al Gore said Thursday that he is committed to sticking with alternatives to breaching hydropower dams on the Lower Snake River "as long as it works" to restore endangered salmon runs.
Gore, in an interview with The Oregonian, also criticized an anti-homosexual initiative on the state's ballot in November and further explained his views on Oregon's landmark law allowing physician-assisted suicide.
As the vice president finished his first swing through Oregon and Washington since the Democratic convention, he made his most extensive public comments to date about the four Snake River dams, which have become the overriding political symbol in the dispute between industry and environmentalists over salmon.
Republican George W. Bush was quick to side with opponents of dam breaching a year ago. But Gore has been squeezed politically between environmentalists, who want to take the dams out, and union and political leaders in the region, who say removing them would be too disruptive to the Northwest economy.
Bush's top political advisers in the region -- Republican Sens. Slade Gorton of Washington and Gordon Smith of Oregon -- have repeatedly accused Gore of ducking the issue.
They say the Clinton administration's recently released salmon plan, which delays consideration of dam breaching in favor of stream restoration and other alternatives, is a strategy for getting Gore past the election. Then, Gore would move quickly to breach the dams.
"No, I think that would be bait and switch," Gore said Thursday. "I'm going to proceed in good faith with the plan that has been outlined" and first try other methods of saving salmon.
The administration plan calls for extensive habitat work, more water releases over dams to help salmon passage, hatchery reforms, and improving the dams so more fish can survive. The plan envisions checking after five and eight years to see whether salmon runs are healthier and, if not, whether breaching should again be considered.
George Frampton, acting chairman of the White House Council for Environmental Quality, has said the plan could be modified to consider breaching after three years.
But Gore refused to be pinned down to any time period before considering breaching.
Instead, he repeated his vow to hold a "salmon summit" if he becomes president to talk about such things as the time lines for any recovery plan. He and President Clinton held a similar "timber summit" in Portland after Clinton's election in 1992 to resolve differences over the endangered northern spotted owl.
Gore said he wants to stick to the administration's basic salmon plan, announced in late July in draft form, "as long as it works."
"I will devote considerable time and effort" to the issue, Gore said, arguing that the approach is "better than the old confrontational politics of the past."
Gorton spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman charged that Gore was still hiding his true intentions from Northwest voters.
"There's still no question where this administration or a Gore administration is headed to," she said. "It's clear they are headed toward dam removal if Al Gore is elected president."
But Bill Arthur, a top Sierra Club official in Seattle, said that while the group supports immediate dam breaching, Gore is taking a credible approach that has a chance of restoring salmon runs.
The administration plan "is a decent framework" that doesn't rule out dam breaching if other alternatives fail, he said.
Arthur said Bush has only supported "fish-friendly turbines" at dams, which he argued was far from what was needed to restore salmon runs. Four runs of threatened or endangered salmon return to the Snake River. Another eight runs of salmon in the lower Columbia River are listed under the Endangered Species Act.
"Time to stop the discrimination" Gore indicated that he might follow President Clinton's lead in getting involved in the latest battle over gay rights in Oregon.
In 1992, Clinton opposed an anti-gay measure sponsored by the Oregon Citizens Alliance, which this year has an initiative on the ballot that would prohibit public schools from "encouraging, promoting or sanctioning" homosexuality or bisexuality.
Gore said he had not read the measure. But he said, "I assume I'm against it" based on descriptions he has heard.
"It's time to stop the discrimination against people because of who they are," he said, echoing lines he used in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention. "I think the majority in our country just wants to let people alone. You know, let's get past the discrimination of the past."
On Monday, Bush said he wouldn't take a stand on the OCA measure because it was an issue for Oregon voters to decide.
During his visit to Portland on Wednesday, Gore said he is worried that a bill in Congress to overturn Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law could discourage doctors from aggressively treating pain.
In the interview, however, Gore clarified that this does not necessarily mean he would veto the bill if he became president and it reached his desk.
He reiterated his personal opposition to physician-assisted suicide but said he also opposes "criminalizing the ability of doctors to deal with intolerable pain."
"It's important those two values be present in the laws of our country," Gore said. But he declined to say whether he wants Oregon's law overturned.
Bush has said he would sign the bill, sponsored by Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., and that his administration would rule that current federal law prohibits Oregon doctors from prescribing lethal doses of barbiturates to terminally ill patients.
Gore, however, said he agrees with the current Justice Department ruling that says doctors in Oregon can use barbiturates, which are federally controlled substances, for this purpose.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Gore's state chairman, has lobbied Gore heavily against the bill. At the same time, Gore's running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, is a co-sponsor of Nickles' measure.
Gore said he is not taking his lead from either Wyden or Lieberman, however.
"I don't have a lead person," he said. "I'm not a member of a mule team."
Supports national monument plans The vice president defended Clinton's decision to create national monuments on more than 3.5 million acres of Western land. Bush repeatedly has criticized the actions, saying local residents didn't have enough input. While in Oregon last week, Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, accused Clinton of acting "willy-nilly" to lock up Western lands.
But Gore said the administration went "about it carefully and did the right thing. This is obviously an issue that divides the Gore-Lieberman ticket from the Bush-Cheney ticket. . . . They are in league with forces that have had a rather unbalanced view of the environment."
Before leaving Seattle, Gore and Lieberman held a boisterous rally in the downtown area that attracted more than 2,000 supporters. They began their morning with a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island and back.
Gore told commuter Jeff Siddons, who asked about salmon, that the fish "represent the linchpin of this whole region's balance between the economy and the environment. The focus on the salmon works for everybody, because when you do the right thing, (you) keep the economy strong and keep the environment healthy."
He said of the salmon problem: "It's not going to be solved overnight. . . . There will be some curves in the road years ahead, but we'll do the right thing."
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