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Locke Confirms He Opposes Kitzhaber Plan

by Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, January 13, 2000

The stance clouds the Oregon governor's proposal
to create a new authority on fish recovery and power

TACOMA -- Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber's drive for a new governing authority for fish and electric power in the Columbia River Basin ran into a brick wall Wednesday when Washington Gov. Gary Locke officially withdrew his support.

Locke unequivocally opposed immediate efforts to create the new agency that Kitzhaber called for in a much-heralded Seattle speech last year.

"Smaller, well-planned steps would be more effective in getting us where we want to go than hoping some future new forum would miraculously do the job," Locke told members of the Northwest Power Planning Council, meeting in Tacoma on Wednesday.

Locke agreed with Kitzhaber's contention that the current effort by four Northwest states, spearheaded by the planning council, had serious flaws. But he said attempts by the council to improve practices had the best likelihood of success.

Locke cited a key risk to Washington state in pursuing Kitzhaber's plan: Washington consumes 60 percent of the Bonneville Power Administration's electricity, and altering Columbia River management for the benefit of wildlife could threaten that supply.

"Given the stakes for our state of Washington, we would be very forceful in protecting our voice in the region and our share of BPA power," Locke said.

He also said the effort could detract from other pressing Northwest issues such as an ongoing BPA rate case and meeting Endangered Species Act demands throughout the region, including Puget Sound.

Locke's remarks come after the region has failed -- despite two decades of effort and the expenditure of more than $4 billion -- to arrest the decline of salmon and steelhead trout. The salmon are hurt by many things, from overfishing to habitat destruction to the operation of federal dams that generate much of the region's electric power.

Locke's statement, which was anticipated, still disappointed conservationists who consider the power council ineffective and in need of overhaul if it is to help restore salmon in the Columbia Basin.

"The status quo isn't doing it," said Mark Glyde, a spokesman for the NW Energy Coalition, a Seattle conservation group. "There needs to be major change."

The power council was created by Congress in 1980. It is charged with balancing power production and the needs of fish and wildlife in the Columbia Basin but has no real authority over the federal agencies that operate the dams and have enormous impact on fish.

The federal government is now weighing a proposal to breach four dams on the lower Snake River and is scheduled to make a recommendation by May.

The Washington governor's comments confirmed and amplified statements last week by Locke's aides. They follow Kitzhaber's warning that unless the region unites behind a new Columbia Basin governing structure, it is in serious danger of losing both salmon and low-cost electricity.

Without Locke's support, however, Kitzhaber's proposal is in deep doubt.

"We need Locke," said Judi Johansen, the chief executive officer of the BPA, the agency that distributes electricity generated at 29 federal dams in the Northwest. "We need the state of Washington to go forward."

Representatives of the governors of Montana and Idaho -- who remain allied with Kitzhaber's effort -- refused to call the proposal dead.

Yet John Etchart, speaking for Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, agreed that the plan was in trouble.

"This was a difficult thing to accomplish in the first place," said Etchart, who represents Racicot on the power council. "It's much more difficult without the governor of the largest and most politically powerful state."

Eric Bloch, a Kitzhaber appointee to the power council, said the governors of Oregon, Montana and Idaho would decide during a conference call today whether to continue pressing forward with the effort. But Bloch held out the possibility that Locke would join the other governors later on. "He is allowing himself some latitude," Bloch said.

Jonathan Brinckman
Locke Confirms He Opposes Kitzhaber Plan
The Oregonian, January 13, 2000

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