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Gorton Rider Blocks Funding for Breaching Studies

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - September 8, 2000

Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., this week announced he will seek to block funding for federal agencies to further study the option of breaching Columbia and Snake river dams to restore salmon.

In a Senate floor speech on Wednesday, Gorton said he would add the funding restriction to the interior appropriations bill for FY2001. Gorton chairs the Senate interior appropriations subcommittee.

He challenged the Clinton-Gore administration to "put its money where its mouth is" by agreeing to his one-year moratorium on spending money to remove the dams or "for any step or purpose on the road to removing those dams."

In its draft salmon strategy and draft biological opinion on the federal hydropower system, the administration has proposed a comprehensive non-breaching recovery plan for endangered Columbia Basin fish. But the plan calls for conducting preliminary engineering and economic impact studies of removal of four lower Snake River dams, in case such action becomes necessary in the future to prevent extinctions.

Vice President Al Gore has endorsed the plan while also promising to hold a Northwest salmon summit next year to seek a public consensus solution if he is elected president. Republican presidential candidate George Bush strongly opposes dam removal.

Gorton, who is running for re-election this year partly on a platform of his opposition breaching, charged that Gore will resurrect the proposal if he is elected president. "The administration and the vice president have blinked (on pursuing breaching), knowing the proposal is as unpopular as it is absurd in the Pacific Northwest," Gorton said.

"The debate over salmon recovery, a universal goal in the Pacific Northwest, will be far more constructive and far more productive when dam removal is taken off the agenda entirely," he said.

His measure was still being drafted, and details were not available on Friday. The wording may be released next week, a Gorton spokeswoman said.

Gorton's provision would prohibit the administration from spending any funds in the next fiscal year either to remove dams or to take steps towards eventual removal, such as planning or engineering studies, according to a press release.

Gorton said he would add the amendment to the interior bill, which has already passed the House and Senate in different forms. Gorton is expected to gain the approval of a conference committee of House and Senate appropriations committee members, which has not yet met to resolve differences between the two versions of the bill. Gorton co-chairs the conference committee.

After a final bill is passed by Congress, it would go to President Clinton for his signature. But the White House has already threatened a veto of the bill because of other environmental funding prohibitions and legislative riders and because of inadequate funding for several programs, including land acquisition by federal agencies.

Justin Hayes, conservation director for American Rivers, which advocates breaching the lower Snake River dams, charged Gorton "just doesn't want any movement whatsoever that's good for fish." Gorton's provision would actually jeopardize the administration's non-breaching salmon recovery plan and BiOp by preventing agencies from meeting required performance goals, Hayes said.

"This drives the region closer to dam removal," he said.

Because it can take years for biological benefits to result from agency actions, the plan includes "a laundry list of actions that need to be accomplished" for the federal hydropower system to remain in compliance with the Endangered Species Act, Hayes said. There are standards for biological, physical and programmatic actions.

"The mere action of authorizing money and providing funding are considered programmatic performance standards," Hayes said. If Gorton "makes it impossible for agencies to meet them by taking away their money, he's actually increasing the likelihood that dam removal will come."

Here's the relevant part of Gorton's recent speech, from -- you have to do a search under Gorton for Sept. 6 to get it (the speech is called "Priorities," given by Gorton 9/6/00)

"Finally, on a regional issue, the great issue in the Pacific Northwest is the future of our hydroelectric dam system on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, and particularly the four dams on the lower Snake River. Many in this administration have pursued the foolish goal of removing those dams in order, the administration asserts, to save salmon. Nothing could be less cost effective as against the many absolutely first rate programs that are going on in the Pacific Northwest directly to that end, programs that not at all incidentally have been remarkably successful if we measure them by this year's return of spring chinook salmon to the Columbia River system.

The administration and the Vice President have blinked in this connection, knowing the proposal is as unpopular as it is absurd in the Pacific Northwest. One group in the administration said it would be off the table for 8 years. However, the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality was cited in the course of the last month saying that moratorium will only be for 3 years, and the Vice President is not guaranteeing 3 years but just, `as long as it [the present system] works.' My own view is that that is until after the November election.

So to the best of my ability to do so, the administration will be given the opportunity to put its money where its mouth is with a prohibition against its using any money in the appropriations bill for fiscal year 2001, not only for removing the dams but for any step or purpose on the road to removing those dams. The debate over salmon recovery, a universal goal in the Pacific Northwest, will be far more constructive and far more productive when that particular view is taken off of the agenda in its entirety."

by Staff
Gorton Rider Blocks Funding for Breaching Studies
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 8, 2000

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