Oregon and its Allies Slam
by Matthew Preusch
The state of Oregon and its allies in a lawsuit over the future of Northwest salmon don't like how the Obama administration is handling the issue.
In papers filed in federal court today, the state, environmental groups and the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho say they've been effectively shut out of the administration's deliberations over how to run the region's network of big, power-generating dams without pushing salmon closer to extinction.
The criticism comes from some of the same people who not long ago were applauding the Obama team's entry in the decades-long and multi-billion dollar conundrum surrounding the imperiled and iconic fish.
"It just seems that if the intent was to really sit down with the parties and resolve our differences, there certainly has been little or no significant dialogue between us and the federal agencies to lead us to believe that is happening," said Mike Carrier, Gov. Ted Kulongoski's natural resource advisor.
The state and other groups are suing the federal government over a plan introduced during the Bush administration to operate hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers without violating federal environmental protections for salmon.
Today they asked the judge overseeing the case for a "status conference" to air their concerns.
Federal courts have struck down three previous plans, called biological opinions, and the Portland judge handling the lawsuit over the current one has expressed serious concerns about its legality.
Yesterday, the government asked U.S. District Court Judge James Redden for, and the judge granted, an additional 30 days to finalize its position on the plan.
"Because this process has been inclusive of various parties' concerns from the beginning, in particular the parties to the litigation, we would like to discuss and explain our process and position on the FCRPS BiOp with all of the parties before formally presenting our position to the Court," Coby Howell, an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division, wrote to the judge.
The judge had previously given the administration an additional 45 days in July and early August to review the plan, but Carrier and others now say during that time there has been a dearth of substantive interaction between the federal agencies and their opponents in the lawsuit.
"It has become clear that the unilateral process federal defendants have followed to finalize their decision jeopardizes any opportunity that may remain to resolve this controversy," the documents filed in Redden's court today say.
Opponents of the plan told the judge they think the administration has already decided what its course will be on the salmon plan, and they fear the 30 days the judge granted the government will be used to "sell that decision to political leaders and the public outside this case," the documents say.
"If this administration indeed does what it appears it's about to do, which is adopt this plan with some additional bows and shiny glitter, that is a true message to salmon communities that this administration is not abiding by the science," said Nicole Cordan, attorney for Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition of environmental and fishing interests.
Federal fish managers said the plan would not be made public until the new deadline, September 15, and critics should reserve judgment until they see what it includes.
"Things are still being discussed within the federal family," said Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle.
"We took very seriously Judge Redden's admonition to us to engage in a collaborative discussion with all the parties. We think it worked out remarkably well," said Gorman. "There are some outliers, but everyone anticipated going into this that we would not get agreement from all the parties."
Also today, a group of more than 100 fisheries experts sent a letter to Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco asking them to reject the 2008 biological opinion.
"This Bush salmon plan is completely inconsistent with President Obama's public statements about relying on sound science," said Jim Martin, former Chief of Fisheries of the Oregon Department Fish and Wildlife and a signatory to the letter.
The letter is the latest in a series of communiques from scientists, senators, editorial writers and others seeking to sway the administration's salmon policy.
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