Heed Redden's Warningby Editorial Board
Register-Guard, June 24, 2007
U.S. District Judge James Redden on Wednesday gave the Bush administration what should be its final warning to either dramatically improve its strategy for boosting imperiled Columbia River salmon runs or face "very serious" consequences.
Make no mistake: High on Judge Redden's list of potential consequences is breaching the four hydroelectric dams on the Lower Snake River that represent the greatest threat to the survival of salmon runs in the Columbia basin.
Four years ago, President Bush stood on one of those dams and vowed they would never be removed. But his administration has done dismayingly little to make the dams safer for salmon, and that failure may leave Redden with no option other than to order their removal.
Two years ago, the administration proposed a salmon strategy based on the silly premise that dams are permanent ecosystem fixtures and therefore not subject to removal to help endangered salmon. In a ruling recently upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Redden rejected that plan and ordered the government to prepare a new one.
Now, the administration has done so, and the new version comes no closer to satisfying the requirements of the federal Endangered Species Act than its predecessors. It fails to consider any major changes to the dams, relying instead on a weak broth of remedies that include enhanced predator control, habitat restoration, and improvements to hatcheries and the turbines that chew up young salmon.
Nor does the plan - known in government jargon as a biological opinion, or "bi-op" for short - make significant changes in the amount of water spilled over the dams to help juvenile fish migrating downstream or river flows, a strategy strongly favored by the state of Oregon.
At a Wednesday hearing in Portland, Redden gave federal agencies additional time to fix the new plan's deficiencies. He ordered them to submit a revised plan by Oct. 31, and issued a stern warning. "I'm going to be very picky because I want a bi-op that works," he said. "This is a very, very, very, very important document."
That's four "verys" from a judge not given to either hyperbole or empty threats. The administration should heed that warning and then do what it has so far maddeningly refused to do: produce a comprehensive biological opinion that adequately protects salmon - and that includes the possibility of removing the Snake dams, if such a move proves necessary.
But the administration already has signaled it has no intention of deviating from its flawed strategy.
In Redden's courtroom on Wednesday, a U.S. Justice Department attorney representing the federal agencies that operate and sell the power produced by the federally owned dams said the government does not expect to make the kinds of major strategy changes that are justifiably being sought by the state of Oregon and Indian tribes.
It's an approach that the judge is unlikely to find acceptable. Worse, it's one that won't ensure the survival of Columbia River salmon.
ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT OF 1973
PENALTIES AND ENFORCEMENT -- SEC. 11
. . .
(b) CRIMINAL VIOLATIONS.-
(1) Any person who knowingly violates any provision of this Act, of any permit or certificate issued hereunder, or of any regulation issued in order to implement subsection (a)(1)(A), (B), (C), (D), (E), or (F); (a)(2)(A), (B), (C), or (D), (c), (d) (other than a regulation relating to recordkeeping, or filing of reports), (f), or (g) of section 9 of this Act shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $50,000 or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both. Any person who knowingly violates any provision of any other regulation issued under this Act shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $25,000 or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.
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