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Obama Officials Meet on
Columbia Basin Biological Opinion

by Staff
Hydro Review, June 15, 2009

Top officials in the Obama administration attended a meeting May 26 to learn more about NOAA Fisheries' biological opinion for operating the Columbia River Basin federal hydropower system.

The meeting followed the Justice Department's May 1 request for a two-month delay in a federal court case to give the administration time to gain a better understanding of the 'biop.' (HNN 5/5/09)

A national coalition led by dam removal advocates filed the suit in 2008, challenging the biop. A letter this month by a federal judge revived threats to consider removing four Corps of Engineers dams on the lower Snake River.

White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairman Nancy Sutley, NOAA Fisheries Administrator Jane Lubchenco, and officials from the Corps of Engineers and Interior Department met with representatives of the governors of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, and representatives of eight Columbia Basin Indian tribes.

"This was, for all of us, an important and constructive meeting that allowed us to gain further insight regarding the biological opinion on hydropower operations now before the court," according to a statement by Sutley. "While we have already received a lot of public input on the issue, this was another opportunity to listen and was not intended to supplement the administrative record. This meeting allowed us to better understand the science of salmon recovery and the sovereigns' individual views."

Judge suggests contingency plan include dam removal

U.S. District Judge James Redden issued a letter May 18 to attorneys involved in the challenge to NOAA Fisheries' 2008 biop. Redden urged parties to develop a contingency plan to study specific, alternative hydro actions, including what it would take to breach four Columbia Basin hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River if other measures to recover endangered salmon fail. Those dams are the 634.6-MW Ice Harbor, 810-MW Little Goose, 810-MW Lower Granite, and 810-MW Lower Monumental projects.

"While the meeting was already planned, its importance was heightened by Judge Redden's recent letter to the parties in this litigation," Sutley said. "We share the court's concern for a final outcome that respects the law, the science, and the salmon. It's only by recovering these protected salmon that once again fishermen, tribal and non-tribal alike, and all of us concerned about the environment will be able to properly enjoy the Northwest's bounty."

"While it's certainly too early for any of us to reach a judgment about the biological opinion, this meeting was a crucial step in arriving at that judgment," Sutley said. "We are grateful for the candor and concern all the participants showed at the meeting."

Obama Officials Meet on Columbia Basin Biological Opinion
Hydro Review, June 15, 2009

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