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Dammed If He Does, Dammed If He Doesn't

by Ben White
Grist Magazine - October 26, 1999

Last Wednesday's New York Times featured a full-page ad urging Vice Pres. Al Gore to take a stronger position on dam removal on the lower Snake River in Washington state, a step that enviros believe would improve the survival chances of several salmon species that call the river home.

The ad -- sponsored by a number of enviro groups, including American Rivers, Idaho Rivers United, and Save Our Wild Salmon -- essentially nationalizes what has up to now been a largely regional issue limited to the Pacific Northwest.

In response to the ad, Gore staffers reiterated what they have said in the past, that the vice president is keeping his eye on the issue but will not be announcing a policy position any time soon.

While the veep's campaign is publicly staying cool, Save Our Wild Salmon Dir. Pat Ford suggests it is privately feeling the heat. "Our main purpose was to call this issue to the attention of the national political establishment," Ford says, "that the administration and the vice president have a big decision to make soon. In that goal, all indications are that we are succeeding. ... We haven't had any direct contact with the vice president's campaign, but we gather that they are not all that happy."

The ad serves as yet another example of the enviro community's willingness, even eagerness, to put the full-court press on Gore, looking to extract promises in return for campaign support. It doesn't hurt that the veep has but one primary opponent who is rising in the polls, has a fat bank account, and sports a better League of Conservation Voters' record than Gore (more on that below).

Last week's full-pager was the first of four such ads scheduled to roll out over the next several weeks, all of which will address the Snake River dam issue. The group spent about $130,000 to secure space in the Times, though they can't be sure which days the ads will run (in exchange for charging a cheaper rate, the Times has the option to run the ads anytime within a given window, whenever they have a page open).

One notable logo at the bottom of the first ad was that of Patagonia. The producer of choice jackets, organic chinos, and other outdoorsy goodies paid for all of the creative work that went into the ads, leaving the enviros with the task of simply raising the money to buy space, which they were able to do with a few sizeable donations over the last couple of months.

Bill Arthur, director of the Sierra Club's Northwest/Alaska region, suggests that Gore will have to take a stand on the issue soon if he plans to keep making campaign swings through Washington state, site of an important Feb. 29 primary.

"It's going to be difficult for him to keep coming to the Northwest without having an answer to this issue," Arthur says. "We would appreciate having an answer instead of having to litigate it in courts for the next 10 years."

by Ben White is a contributing reporter at the Washington Post and assistant to columnist David Broder.
Dammed If He Does, Dammed If He Doesn't
Grist Magazine, October 26, 1999

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