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Kitzhaber Presses Salmon Proposal

by Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, December 20, 2000

Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, who may serve in Bush's Cabinet,
agrees that salmon and hydropower are linked

The Northwest will lose both endangered salmon in the Columbia River and access to low-cost electricity unless it breaks a two-decade stalemate and develops a salmon recovery plan supported by four states, 13 tribes and the federal government, Gov. John Kitzhaber said Tuesday.

Joining him in Portland to mount the argument was Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, who flew to Austin, Texas, Tuesday afternoon under speculation that President-elect George W. Bush would name him to a Cabinet-level post.

Racicot's potential influence in such a post was viewed as being key to giving life to Kitzhaber's long-fought attempts at a four-state salmon management plan.

Tuesday's salmon meeting at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel showed developments on a subject for which Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana have so far been unable to find consensus.

Racicot repeatedly stressed the importance of a new Northwest plan for salmon and hinted that he would keep pressing for it from within the Bush administration.

Racicot amplified Kitzhaber's claim that the fate of salmon and hydropower control in the Columbia Basin are inextricably linked. If the management of salmon goes, so too does the region's ability to manage dams and market its power.

"The four Northwest states would be better off if we had more influence over the decisions that are being made" regarding salmon and electricity in the Columbia Basin, Racicot said.

Kitzhaber said the six-week energy crisis now engulfing the West has shown how vulnerable Oregon is when regional electricity supplies run low.

Energy woes, Kitzhaber said, could increase regional pressure for a Northwest salmon plan that could stave off energy grabs from other parts of the country.

U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson this month ordered the Bonneville Power Administration to send electricity generated at Columbia Basin dams to California, an action Kitzhaber said puts Oregon winter power supplies at risk while sacrificing water that could be needed by salmon next spring.

The governors' proposed congressional legislation would modify the Northwest Power Planning Council -- a four-state agency created by Congress in 1980 to protect salmon and wildlife in the Columbia Basin while ensuring a reliable electricity supply -- by adding an advisory committee with a federal and tribal representative.

Tribes suspicious of state control That committee would be charged with developing a single salmon recovery plan that meets state, federal and tribal requirements.

Congress would need to do this. And the daunting task faced Tuesday by Kitzhaber and Racicot was quickly made clear when representatives of four of the region's tribes immediately called the plan flawed -- and possibly illegal.

Olney Patt Jr., chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said tribes are suspicious of putting tribal matters now handled by the federal government under state control.

Ric Ilgenfritz, Columbia Basin Coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said the federal government, now in a transition from the Clinton to Bush administration, neither supported nor opposed the proposal.

Still, he said, it is very difficult for the federal government to speak with one voice on the Columbia Basin because different federal agencies have different mandates -- with Bonneville, for example, charged with selling electricity and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service charged with protecting wildlife.

Other states opposed "There is a complex web of conflicting statutes that make it almost impossible to have a consistent approach here," Ilgenfritz said.

And the plan is not supported by the region's other two governors, Gary Locke of Washington and Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho. Locke had no representative at Tuesday's meeting but sent a letter outlining strong concerns, including the possibility that creation of a new committee would make it more difficult for state and local officials to work with the federal government.

H.D. Palmer, an Idaho-based spokesman for Kempthorne, said that while the Idaho governor does not oppose efforts to improve decision-making in the Columbia Basin, he does not think the power council should be modified.

Kitzhaber, having faced failure in previous attempts at unifying the four Northwest states on salmon and energy, was undeterred -- perhaps owing to Racicot's support.

"My philosophy is that you make things happen by dropping a stone in the middle of a pond and creating waves," he said. "Now's the time to do that."

He said he had released the proposed legislation in order to stimulate discussion and thinks it would be sharply modified. Still, he said he would keep pressing for new ways to make decisions about salmon and power in the Columbia Basin.

"There is a sense of urgency here," Kitzhaber said. "The path we are on today is the path to extinction."

Jonathan Brinckman
Kitzhaber Presses Salmon Proposal
The Oregonian, December 20, 2000

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