Bush Stand on Dams Misleads Voters,
by Jeff Mapes, The Oregonian staff
The GOP candidate's vow to oppose breaching
would ensure dire results, the vice president's adviser warns
Katie McGinty, Al Gore's top environmental adviser, charged Wednesday in Portland that George W. Bush's vow to never consider breaching Snake River dams would cause lengthy legal action that could doom endangered salmon and hurt the region's economy.
McGinty, who helped craft the Clinton administration's salmon plan when she headed the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said Bush has chosen political sound bites over a scientifically credible plan to restore native salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin.
Bush, during a Spokane rally Monday, again pledged to rule out any attempt to remove four large dams on the lower Snake River. The Republican presidential nominee also said Gore is trying to avoid taking a stand on the dams' fate before the November election.
But McGinty said the Texas governor was not letting the voters know the consequences of ruling out dam breaching to aid fish protected by the Endangered Species Act.
"He is jeopardizing the environmental and the economic health of the region because that irresponsible set of sound bites dramatically increases the possibility the courts are going to be running this region," McGinty told The Oregonian.
McGinty, who spent much of the day in Portland trying to solidify support for the Democratic ticket among environmentalists, argued that any scientifically credible recovery plan for salmon would have to leave open the option of breaching dams.
The Clinton administration has proposed that consideration of dam breaching be put off while other strategies -- including habitat restoration, hatchery reforms, and dam and turbine improvements -- are tried.
Gore has said that he supports such an approach "as long as it works," but that he would not rule out breaching if necessary to revive the salmon.
McGinty said if breaching isn't kept on the table, legal action would lead to a takeover of salmon recovery efforts by the courts.
"You can't take that option (of breaching dams) off the table and have any kind of plan that has scientific integrity," she said.
"The governor knows that," McGinty said of Bush. "He should have the courage of his convictions and be clear to the people of this region. . . . His conviction is clearly that salmon extinction is a very likely option."
Ken Lisaius, a Bush spokesman, disputed McGinty's claims, saying Bush will propose a salmon recovery plan "that will be based on sound science and that will preserve the dams." Bush has not detailed what approaches are necessary to restore salmon other than talking about "salmon-friendly turbines" at dams.
Lisaius said Gore was "once again sending people out to cover" for the Democratic candidate's refusal to flatly say whether the dams should be breached.
Bush has made his opposition to dam breaching a central issue in his campaign in Oregon and Washington. Republican strategists think it has helped cement strong support for him among voters east of the Cascades and made him competitive in the two states. Neither state has been won by a Republican presidential candidate since 1984.
Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., a key opponent of dam breaching, also disputes McGinty's contention, said Cynthia Bergman, a Gorton spokeswoman.
"Slade is running against this philosophy that Al Gore or Katie McGinty knows what is best for every stream and river in Washington state," Bergman said.
But McGinty, who left the White House in 1998 and now works full time on Gore's campaign, said it's impossible to know at this point whether Columbia Basin salmon can be saved without breaching.
"There is not a scientist in the world that would say this is a robust recovery plan when that would always and forever prohibit even studying the removal of the dams," she said.
The Clinton administration plan has proposed monitoring fish returns and re-evaluating whether breaching is needed at five- and eight-year intervals. However, the plan has not been finalized, and officials have talked about having a review after three years.
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