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Plans Include Increase in Salmon Spending

by Tom Detzel, The Oregonian staff
The Northwest, The Oregonian, February 5, 2002

WASHINGTON -- President Bush wants to spend a record $506 million on Northwest salmon restoration programs next year, but Democrats said big transportation cuts could cost the state thousands of jobs.

Environmentalists said Bush's proposed $68 million increase on programs to help Columbia River and coastal salmon stocks marked progress but still fell short of what federal biologists estimated is needed to be successful.

Because of falling gas tax revenues, the budget calls for an $8.6 billion cut in transportation funding for states. For Oregon, that would translate into a loss of about $88 million, or 30 percent, of the state's annual federal allocation.

"The transportation initiative looks like it will cost us thousands of jobs at a time when the administration is talking about economic health," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. "This is something that's absolutely key for the region."

Northwest members of Congress plowed through the four-volume, six-inch-thick budget Monday trying to assess the financial impact of Bush's top priorities: the war on terrorism, homeland security and the economy.

Wyden questioned whether Bush's proposal to hold funding for nuclear cleanup flat at $6.7 billion and set aside $800 million of that for accelerated cleanup could jeopardize ongoing work at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The budget seeks $1.51 billion for cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington, about 15 percent less than the $1.78 billion Congress appropriated in fiscal 2002.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said Congress would likely push back against the cuts in transportation and energy assistance for the poor as well as Bush's proposal to accelerate tax cuts and boost the military budget.

"It's a long list of programs on the chopping blocks, and all for two reasons: so he could have a $48 billion increase at the Pentagon" and new tax cuts, which total $591 billion over 10 years, DeFazio said.

He said the defense budget didn't consider cuts in outdated Cold War-era weapons programs that could save billions. "Instead of making tough choices, they're just going to flood the Pentagon with money," he said.

Visiting Portland last month, Bush pledged to make sure Klamath Basin farmers don't have to face another irrigation cutoff such as the one last summer that sent some into foreclosure and caused $134 million in economic losses.

But the budget includes no large new appropriations for the Klamath and reduces by $1.2 million the $15.5 million budget for the Bureau of Reclamation's 220,000-acre water project on the Oregon-California border.

There might be more to come, Interior Secretary Gale Norton suggested.

Norton said the administration still has a budget "placeholder" for the Klamath while it analyzes the fallout from a National Academy of Sciences report issued this weekend that criticizes the science behind last year's water cutoff.

In addition, the fact that reclamation officials are still working on a multiyear biological assessment for the basin made it hard to settle on a broader Klamath spending plan in time for Monday's budget release, she said.

Susan Holmes, a lobbyist for the environmental group Earthjustice, said the critical Academy of Sciences report shows that federal wildlife agencies aren't getting sufficient funding for complex scientific work on endangered species.

Biologists said last summer's water cutoff was needed to protect endangered sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River downstream. The academy's report said the science didn't support either that decision or the bureau's plan to give more water to farmers.

The salmon budget includes $90 million for Oregon, Alaska and Washington to fund coastal recovery programs. The remainder is aimed at habitat and hatchery improvements to revive imperiled Columbia River stocks under a biological plan issued two years ago that's never been fully funded.

Jim Connaughton, chairman of Bush's Council on Environmental Quality, termed the $506 million a "record level" of funding for salmon restoration, and it does represent a $68 million increase from this year's budget.

But American Rivers, an environmental group, said federal wildlife agencies have estimated more than $850 million is needed. Last year, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber tried but failed to get Congress to approve $718 million.

Eric Bloch, Kitzhaber's representative on the Northwest Power Planning Council, said the budget is moving in the right direction but needs to go further.

"There's a biological clock ticking here. The question is, are we going to get the funds to do the work we need in the time frame that's meaningful for the salmon," he said.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., will continue to work for more money for salmon, transportation programs and the Klamath Basin, said Smith spokesman Chris Matthews.

"This is really the president's blueprint and the starting point in a long process," Matthews said. "It is certainly in no way, shape or form the final product."

Tom Detzel, The Oregonian staff
Jim Barnett and Andy Dworkin of The Oregonian contributed to this report.
Plans Include Increase in Salmon Spending
The Oregonian, February 5, 2002

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