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Guvs' Hearing to Consider New Governance Plan

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - November 17, 2000

The governors of Montana and Oregon on Monday aim to trigger discussions they hope will eventually give the Columbia Basin states and tribes more clout in fish and wildlife restoration decisions.

Montana Gov. Marc Racicot and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber have called a public hearing take input on a "discussion draft" of proposed legislation that would amend the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act.

The proposal would create a Fish and Wildlife Committee within the Northwest Power Planning Council that would include a council member from each of the states -- Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. The committee would include a federal representative appointed by the president, a representative of Columbia Basin tribes and perhaps an ex officio, non-voting member from Canada.

Under the draft prepared by Kitzhaber, Racicot and their staffs, the committee would be responsible for developing and adopting a comprehensive fish and wildlife program "addressing all major factors for decline…." The suggested Power Act amendments recognize that the Council program's scope includes consideration of fish and wildlife impacts from the hydroelectric system, fish hatcheries, fisheries harvest and habitat conditions

That discussion draft language says the program would then be referred to the full Council for adoption without amendment. It would, in turn, submit the program to the Secretary of Interior "as a cooperative agreement" under the ESA.

"The secretary is required to approve the program as a cooperative agreement if he or she determines that the program is reasonably certain to conserve the species of fish or wildlife addressed by the program," according to the draft.

"Approval of the program as a cooperative agreement under the Federal Endangered Species Act is intended to have the effect of transferring the responsibility for implementing that Act, including the consultation provisions of section 7 of that Act, to the Council. This provision is specifically intended to consolidate all decision-making regarding threatened and endangered species in the Columbia River basin with the Committee."

The intent of the legislation is to consolidate what an analysis of the proposal calls a dispersed decision-making process involving the NWPPC, federal and state agencies and the tribes. The result is a "lack of clear accountability and consistent decision-making.

"A central purpose of this act is to bring all of the sovereign interests in the Columbia River basin together in one body to determine how the region should improve all aspects of protecting and restoring fish and wildlife, and to establish a process to ensure that federal decision-making is consistent with the Council's program," according to the analysis.

The draft language says the BPA "administrator and other federal agencies shall notify the committee of any proposed action… and their determination of (the action's) consistency or inconsistency with the program…."

If the committee does not concur with that determination "the matter shall be referred to the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, who shall determine whether the agency may proceed with its proposed action", possibly subject to conditions.

"What they are really trying to do is instigate a dialogue they both think is necessary on this topic," said John Etchart, one of Montana's two representatives to the NWPPC. Revisions to the Columbia Basin fish and wildlife governance structure have long been discussed by the four states' governors without resolution about the proper course. The draft legislation -- shared with but not officially endorsed by Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and Washington Gov. Gary Locke -- is intended to reinvigorate discussions.

"They (Kitzhaber and Racicot) just decided to take the initiative," Etchart said. "If this moves forward it will, of course, have to involve all four governors."

Kitzhaber and Racicot share the belief that the region needs more authority in fish and wildlife recovery processes now ruled by federal agencies.

"It is in the region's interest to be stronger," Etchart said.

Eric Bloch, a Kitzhaber appointee to the NWPPC, said input from the hearing could well result in changes to the proposed legislation. The governors then intend to work with their states' congressional delegations to craft legislation.

The four Northwest governors 1 1/2 years ago offered for public review a variety of options for changing the Columbia Basin fish and wildlife governance structure.

The response was generally favorable toward change, but no consensus was reached on how and when that structure should be changed, Bloch said.

So Kitzhaber and Racicot decided to offer a specific proposal.

The complicated planning process now involves the NWPPC, federal agencies and tribes all developing their own strategies. Washington and Oregon also have recovery plans in place.

"We're engaged in a pretty difficult process of integrating and coordinating those plans," Bloch said. The draft legislation is intended to bring those separate planning entities together during the development of a comprehensive strategy.

The envisioned committee would have a similar makeup to that of the advisory Columbia River Basin Forum, but with decision-making authority.

Kitzhaber has long been in favor of the region working together to find the right mix of restoration strategies that answer federal mandates, as well as state and tribal needs, Bloch said.

The suggested Northwest Power Act amendments would both ensure Council program compliance with the ESA and federal Water Pollution Control Act and that federal agency actions are "consistent to the maximum extent practicable" with the Power Act and Council program.

That "consistency obligation is intended to cover all entities involved in the hydroelectric system, including but not limited to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Federal Energy Regulatory commission," according to the draft's accompanying analysis.

Any such changes to the Power Act would require Congress' approval and ratification from the states.

The public hearing on regional governance is slated to begin at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 20 at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel.

Witnesses invited to present testimony, and field questions from the governors, represent Columbia Basin tribes, aluminum and other industrial interests, utility, fishing and conservation groups, legal experts and federal entities.

Representatives of the Northwest's congressional delegation have also been invited to attend, according to the Oregon office of the Northwest Power Planning Council. It is also expected that time will allow questions from the public.

by Staff
Guvs' Hearing to Consider New Governance Plan
Columbia Basin Bulletin, November 17, 2000

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