Idaho Delegation Sticks Together
by Dean Ferguson
State's congressional members defend controversial section of pending federal legislation
A fight over salmon and water has Idaho's four-man congressional delegation banding together against fish advocacy groups and a U.S. senator from Washington.
The Idaho leaders sent a letter Thursday to U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., defending a controversial section in a federal spending bill. Feinstein chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, and Dicks chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior.
The section, added this summer by embattled Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, seeks to reinstate a Bush Administration biological opinion that U.S. District Judge James Redden said violated the Endangered Species Act.
"Contrary to the assertions ... you received from a number of environmental and fishing advocacy groups, Section 127 seeks to advance, not hinder recovery of listed salmon and steelhead populations," the letter reads.
The delegation argues that striking the section will threaten a hard-fought agreement with the Nez Perce Tribe, the federal government and state over water rights. Part of the agreement sets aside water that can be used for salmon recovery efforts.
"The Idaho delegation will stand firm on this water agreement and its role in regional salmon recovery efforts," said Lindsay Nothern, a spokesman of Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.
The letter opposes a letter sent Sept. 19 by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to Feinstein.
Cantwell called for the removal of Craig's section from the spending bill, writing, "it could further threaten salmon in the Columbia-Snake River Basin, and the communities that depend on them, by delaying the development of a legally valid" policy.
Cantwell argued Idaho and down-river interests need to work to together to restore salmon runs.
"For the past two years, a court-ordered collaborative process has been under way to ensure that the plan put in place not only complies with ESA, but reflects an important regional dialogue," Cantwell wrote. "We need to ensure that this independent process stays on track for October and is not hijacked by politics along the way."
The dueling letters come as Cantwell's stature on the salmon issue is rising as the result of Craig's fall from grace.
Craig has long opposed salmon recovery efforts favored by salmon recovery advocates, siding instead with industrial power and agricultural interests that favor keeping dams in place and water in reservoirs.
But Craig's influence dwindled when news broke of his arrest in Minneapolis airport men's bathroom gay sex sting in June. Craig later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct. Upon hearing the news, Senate Republican leaders forced Craig to leave leadership posts on several committees, including the appropriations subcommittee.
Craig said last week, he will not resign, as he originally said. Instead, he will serve out the remainder of his term to better fight Senate Ethics Committee charges.
Environmentalists took heart in the fall, with Save Our Wild Salmon Executive Director Pat Ford calling Craig, "the most effective opponent of Northwest salmon recovery in the entire U.S. Congress."
The letter is, in part, intended to make it clear that Idaho's delegation is united when it comes to keeping water in Idaho, Nothern said.
Nothern said Crapo hopes the letter will spur discussion.
Cantwell's office was unavailable for comment late Friday afternoon.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs