New BPA VP of Environment, Fish and Wildlife
The Bonneville Power Administration has spent billions of dollars on Columbia River basin fish and wildlife mitigation and it continues to spend nearly $300 million each year in direct expenses for the Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Program.
But over the last year, the agency has been forced by competitive power markets to seek cuts to its fish and wildlife budget by as much as $30 million and to continue to manage those costs at a rate that is below inflation. In addition, BPA continues to ask tough questions surrounding one of the largest and most complex fish recovery programs in the nation.
Scott Armentrout, Vice President of Environment, Fish and Wildlife since November, spoke to Northwest Power and Conservation Council members at its meeting Wednesday, March 13 in Portland. Armentrout comes to BPA after a long stint with the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado. He replaces Lorri Bodi, who retired last year.
According to a draft report released this week by the Council on BPA fish and wildlife costs, the agency has spent $16.8 billion on fish and wildlife programs since 1981 and has continued to spend 19.5 percent of the Power Business Line's costs. See https://www.nwcouncil.org/reports/2018-columbia-river-basin-fish-and-wildlife-program-costs-report-0.
"How do we keep doing this and still address the region's emerging priorities?" Armentrout asked. "Is this permanent? Do we stop doing this at some point?"
He answered his own questions, saying "The fish program is never necessarily going to be complete. It will be an ongoing obligation: this is a huge commitment for BPA with few exit ramps."
Many of the big commitments are funding hatchery operations, some of the long-term research studies and land acquisitions.
But he did add that none of this means that BPA will keep spending at the 2018 level. "We could further reduce the costs to the ratepayer," he said. "That's one of the challenges."
"The greater question is how we prioritize the work and the obligation for BPA to continue to pay for it. I do look to the Council to help us with priorities, helping to tie the projects we fund to Bonneville's obligation to pay."
He also said that BPA is not the only organization with obligations to pay for fish recovery, pointing to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation that operate the federal dams also having similar obligations.
"I'm encouraged by everything I hear," said Oregon Council member Ted Ferrioli. "The issue is to connect the programs with biological effectiveness, also to tie that to the Council Amendment process. That seems to be on the same page as our staff."
"And I expect our alignment to get better over time," Armentrout responded, touting a newly "realigned" staff he is in bringing on that will look at "how to adapt to keep that alignment with Council staff together."
At this point in his job, Armentrout says he is spending about one-third of his time on three things: an environmental impact statement being developed by court order that will result in a new biological opinion of the federal hydroelectric system by December 2000; the fish and wildlife program; and other issues, such as ocean conditions, increased spill, dam breaching, Columbia River Treaty, implementing the Fish Accord extension and predators in the basin.
Of the extension to the Fish Accords, he said the program has been very successful and that Eliot Mainzer, administrator of BPA, recently wrote a letter saying he'd like the Accords to extend out the full four years as initially agreed. The Accords, set for a four year term, were initially keyed to the completion of a new Columbia system BiOp, which by Presidential order will be completed one year earlier in 2020 instead of 2021. Armentrout said BPA wants the Accords to still play out over the four years as planned.
"We took on the Herculean task to change the MMPA, but we will need your help with the funding," Jeffery Allen, Idaho Council member, said.
The MMPA is the Marine Mammal Protection Act that was changed by Congress recently to allow the lethal removal of more sea lions from the Columbia and Willamette rivers, including steller sea lions, which had previously been off limits to culling programs.
"As a policy, we don't fund removal," Armentrout said. "That requires a policy change, which is not impossible. It's not a lengthy process, but it's not short either. It needs to go through a review process before we can fund it."
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