Senate Panel Leaves Idaho Outby Staff
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved $95 million for Pacific Salmon Fund grants to West Coast states and tribes for endangered salmon restoration projects, but for the third year did not include Idaho in the program.
Facing opposition in the committee from powerful Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said he would offer an amendment to make his state eligible when the $43.5 billion FY2003 appropriation bill for the departments of commerce, state and justice comes up on the floor either before the August recess or in September. Craig argued for the salmon fund amendment in the committee on Thursday when it approved the overall spending bill, and afterward said he and fellow Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo would try to pass the amendment in the Senate if they could not work out an agreement with appropriations committee leaders.
Idaho is the spawning grounds for a number of endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead that migrate through the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean, Craig noted. "Anything we do (to restore habitat) enhances the overall numbers (of fish)," he said.
Stevens, is the senior Republican on the appropriations committee and previously has opposed efforts to make Idaho eligible for the fund and to require that state grant money be allocated equally each year among eligible states. Legislation to establish the Pacific Salmon Fund at up to $200 million per year for three years has passed the House but is stalled in the Senate Commerce Committee.
The appropriations panel provided $95 million in the FY2003 spending bill for four states and two groups of Indian tribes. That is $5 million more than the current year's amount and $5 million more than President George W. Bush requested in his budget. In addition, $40 million was included for continued implementation of the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty.
The Pacific Salmon Fund provides 50-50 matching grants for salmon restoration projects and related watershed planning and monitoring. The committee allocated the $95 million as follows: Washington state, $30.05 million, Alaska, $24.65 million, California and Oregon, $14 million each, coastal Indian tribes, $9 million, and Columbia River tribes, $3.3 million.
Craig's amendment did not set a dollar amount for Idaho but raises objections from the other states' senators because would have the effect of reducing their shares, a committee source said. Idaho reportedly is seeking $10 million.
During the committee meeting, Stevens said Idaho already receives $188 million per year for salmon projects through the Bonneville Power Administration's fish and wildlife mitigation program, while Alaska does not enjoy such a source of funds. BPA is an agency of the Energy Department but all of its annual funding comes from the sale of electricity generated by federal dams to Northwest utilities.
An aide to Stevens said he meant that the entire Northwest, not just Idaho, receives that amount of salmon funding. Stevens "has been supportive of the Idaho senators' problems and wants to work with them," but at the same time argues that their proposal should be considered in the context of the larger funding picture, the aide said.
"We get a little" through BPA, Craig agreed, but added that the two programs are completely different. He indicated he and Stevens would meet to discuss the issue.
He said that unlike the salmon fund bill, his amendment would not address the committee's unequal allocation formula, but would simply make Idaho eligible for grants. The amendment would be legislation on an annual spending bill, which could raise a parliamentary objection because that violates Senate rules. But Craig said some committee leaders are sympathetic and that Washington senators should be supportive because they would benefit from enhanced salmon habitat in Idaho. "We're close to having the votes," he said.
A bill by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., H.R. 1157, passed the House last year, and a Senate commerce subcommittee held a hearing earlier this year on a similar measure by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Idaho's senators, S. 1825.
The bill has the support of the Bush administration and Northwest environmental, Indian tribes and fishing groups.
At the hearing, Stevens said he opposed allocating the fund equally among states because the needs of Alaska and Washington were greater. Staff negotiations on a possible compromise have been going slowly.
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