Locke Won't Join New Panel for Columbia DamsThe Associated Press
Seattle Times, January 10, 2000
PORTLAND - Washington Gov. Gary Locke has decided not to participate in a proposal by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber to create a new authority to govern the operation of federal dams in the Columbia River Basin.
Locke's defection leaves Idaho and Montana supporting Kitzhaber's plan, which he floated as a way to save both salmon and low-cost power in the Northwest.
"Locke just reached the conclusion that he does not support Governor Kitzhaber's proposal," said Tom Karier, one of Locke's appointees to the Northwest Power Planning Council. "It was distracting from other issues."
Among those issues, Karier said, is Locke's concern about electricity supplied by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). Washington now consumes 60 percent of BPA-supplied power, and redistributing it among four Northwest states could threaten Washington's position.
Locke's position leaves a key state on the sidelines, threatening to derail Kitzhaber's plan.
Kitzhaber launched the idea of a new agency in 1999 as a device to find a consensus among Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Washington on tough, shared environmental problems such as fish conservation and management of hydroelectric dams.
He said the agency would balance electricity production at dams against the needs of salmon. Creating that agency would require authorization by Congress, and it either would replace or augment the Northwest Power Planning Council, the current regional body whose power is only advisory.
"I'm extremely disappointed," said Sara Patton, executive director of the NW Energy Coalition, a Seattle conservation group. "We are really at risk here."
Kitzhaber, however, said he is not giving up.
"This doesn't diminish the importance of the issue," said Eric Bloch, one of Kitzhaber's two appointees to the Northwest Power Planning Council.
Kitzhaber's proposal comes as the federal government, faced with decades of failed efforts to rescue Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead trout, considers whether to recommend breaching four federal dams on the lower Snake River. That recommendation, originally due last month, has been postponed to May or later.
Karier said Locke is against Kitzhaber's proposal because he thinks it diverts attention from, among other key issues, a BPA rate case that will set electricity costs in the region and efforts to ensure the reliability of electric power in the Northwest.
Also, Karier said, Locke thinks that wrestling with how the Columbia River should be governed could be regionally divisive.
Steve Johnson, executive director of the Washington Public Utility Districts, said many Washington state power users don't want to bring national attention to Northwest electricity production.
The Northwest has much to lose, he said, if other areas of the country decide that it no longer should have first access to low-cost electricity generated by the region's federal dams.
"Going to Congress is crazy," Johnson said. "It will backfire."
Patton of the NW Energy Alliance called that calculation wrong.
"The thinking appears to be that the status quo is good for Washington (state), so why should we enter into negotiations where we might lose something?" she said. "That's shortsighted and dangerous. The status quo is not good for Washington; for one thing, we've got salmon going extinct."
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