Lawmaker Calls For Breachingby Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, July 20, 2001
U.S. Rep. George McDermott of Seattle introduced legislation Thursday that would authorize removal of the four lower Snake River Dams if one of three federal agencies says it is necessary to recover threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead.
The legislation, called the Salmon Planning Act, also directs the federal government to study measures to mitigate the economic and environmental impacts of dam removal. It also calls for the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a peer review of the federal government's biological opinion and salmon recovery plan approved last year.
McDermott, a seven-term House Democrat, said he introduced the legislation because he is frustrated with the pace of salmon recovery under the Bush administration.
"The Bush administration has so far failed to allocate funds to implement the 2000 Salmon Recovery Plan to avoid dam removal. If this bill nudges them to take the plan seriously and it is successful in preventing the breaching of the dams, then no one would be happier than I would," he said. "Now is the time to plan for all contingencies."
The bill likely will face strong opposition in the Republican-controlled House, and dam supporters already are organizing against it.
Rep. Butch Otter, R-Idaho, has written a so-called Dear Colleague letter denouncing the legislation as radical.
"This bill would set back salmon recovery and threaten the energy security of the Pacific Northwest. We request you to not support the bill," said Otter in the letter, which likely will be mailed to other House members today.
Otter also called the government's Salmon Recovery Plan a last-minute regulation by the Clinton administration and cited this year's large return of spring chinook salmon as evidence dam removal is unnecessary.
Reps. Doc Hastings and George Nethercutt, both Republicans from Washington, also denounced the legislation.
According to environmental groups pushing for the removal of the dams, the legislation is necessary to avoid delays should current recovery efforts fail.
"The Salmon Planning Act doesn't require dam removal but it prepares our region for the full range of possibilities, helps us avoid crisis and assures just treatment for our communities, our treaty responsibilities and our salmon," said Rob Masonis of American Rivers at Seattle.
Pat Ford of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition at Boise said his group and others worked with McDermott on the legislation but the final version was written by the congressman. The groups plan to lobby on behalf of the bill.
"What we are going to be doing as salmon advocates is seeking to gain additional co-sponsors both in the region and nationwide, and building that support base," he said.
The legislation is being co-sponsored by 20 other House members, none of whom are from the Pacific Northwest.
Those who want to save the dams claim their removal would economically devastate the region by the loss of hydro-electric energy and barge transportation between the Tri-Cities and Lewiston. Frank Carroll, Potlatch Corp. spokesman and an opponent of dam breaching, said McDermott is simply playing politics.
"All he is doing is doing some environmental groups a favor that doesn't cost him anything," he said. "The good congressman needs to leave these matters to the judgment of the people who know what they are talking about -- the people who are dealing with the issues directly and the people who live here."
The bill would authorize the removal of the dams if the secretary of Commerce finds it is necessary to recover the imperiled stocks of salmon and steelhead. The National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency responsible for salmon recovery, is part of the Department of Commerce.
The dams also could be removed if the secretary of Interior finds it is necessary to meet treaty obligations with Columbia River Indian Tribes. The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency also could trigger dam removal if it is necessary to meet the requirements of the Federal Pollution Control Act.
Several environmental groups have sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, claiming the four lower Snake River dams violate the Clean Water Act by causing water temperatures and dissolved gas levels to exceed standards set by Washington state.
The bill does not authorize any money to remove the dams. Some estimates have put the cost of dam removal at more than $1 billion.
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