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Gorton's Rider Aimed at Saving Dams

by Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, September 22, 2000

Armed with disputed "proof" that Vice President Al Gore wants to breach the four lower Snake River dams, Sen. Slade Gorton tried to push that option off the table Thursday.

The Washington Republican used his seniority on a Senate appropriations subcommittee to tack a rider aimed at protecting dams onto the annual spending bill -- a move that enraged environmental groups and drew "strong opposition" from the White House.

"It will take the force of law to make certain Bill Clinton and Al Gore stick to their word and do not start down the road to breaching Eastern Washington's dams," Gorton said.

The Sierra Club immediately attacked its longtime foe. "He is basically deciding by fiat what is an acceptable and an unacceptable part of the (salmon plan)," said Bill Arthur, the environmental group's regional director. "By him playing surrogate salmon czar, he is risking the legal integrity of the plan."

In a news conference after his rider was approved by the House-Senate conference committee, Gorton said he was forced to make the controversial move because of Gore's alleged determination to breach the dams between Pasco and Lewiston.

Publicly, Gore has been silent on dam breaching, despite pressure by environmentalists to take a stand.

But at a news conference in Washington, D.C., Gorton revealed the text of a July speech to Friends of the Earth Action in which Gore's dam breaching intent seems clear.

Among Gore's "priorities for the environment" are pesticide restrictions, climate control, trade globalization and restoring endangered salmon.

Under a heading of "proposed action," the statement in italics is "Announce a decision to remove Snake River dams, which act as a barrier to the restoration of the Northwest salmon."

Gorton -- accompanied by Northwest Republican senators Larry Craig and Gordon Smith, blasted Gore: "Al Gore's true intentions have been revealed. ... Today we know that the fix is in."

The issue, however, isn't so cut and dried. Maria Meier, spokeswoman with Gore 2000 in Nashville, Tenn., called Gorton's statements an "absolute distortion of the facts."

She said the italicized action statement was supplied by Friends of the Earth, and Gore was responding to it. The text that's under it follows closely to what Gore has told crowds in Portland and the Tri-Cities -- that if elected, he will convene a salmon summit to sort out the mess.

Gore continues to say performance measures will help determine if dam breaching is needed, Meier said. "Our position hasn't changed at all," she said.

If that's the case, said Gorton spokesman Todd Young, then Gore should say what he thinks should be done with the dams. "Yet again, Al Gore is trying to hide and not give an answer," Young said.

Regardless of the vice president's plans, Gorton is trying to make sure dam breaching studies aren't started next year.

"We will ensure the Clinton-Gore administration is held to its word that no funds will be spent next year for dam removal or efforts to prepare for tearing down the dams," he said.

The amendment, which still has to pass the full House and Senate before going to the president, prohibits spending money on engineering or economic studies related to dam breaching.

The federal salmon plan released this summer promotes starting such studies early in case it becomes necessary in five or 10 years to breach the dams in a last-ditch attempt to save salmon.

But the Clinton administration said it doesn't expect to ask for study money next year. Said Arthur: "(Gorton) created a false issue so that he could be a savior of nothing,"

Clinton's Office on Environmental Quality sent Gorton a letter on Wednesday to try to prevent his rider. Among its objections is that "this rider would interfere with the development of a comprehensive approach to salmon recovery."

In contrast, said the White House letter, the administration's approach is to develop a strategy "so that dam breaching can be avoided and ... to taking actions to make breaches unnecessary."

The letter did not say whether the president would veto the spending bill to defeat Gorton's rider. "It would be pretty shocking if holding them to their own policy is why they would veto something," Young said.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., took Gorton to task. "There is no reason to adopt this rider other than election-year politics," she said.

"Unfortunately, we've heard too many people who only say what they don't want to happen, who only seek to place blame, who heighten the rhetoric, who lead by creating fear rather than hope, and who never commit to a plan," Murray said.

Washington, D.C.,-based Taxpayers for Common Sense -- which says taxpayers could owe Indian tribes tens of billions of dollars if salmon go extinct -- also criticized Gorton's "anti-salmon rider."

"This rider is unacceptable, and worse, dangerous," said Kathleen McNeilly, spokeswoman for Common Sense. "It throws all scientific and economic analysis out the window."

Mike Lee
Gorton's Rider Aimed at Saving Dams
Tri-City Herald, September 22, 2000

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