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Feds' Internal Salmon Plan Cost Estimates Released

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - February 1, 2002

Three Northwest environment groups on Thursday released an internal cost estimate prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2000 that indicates the federal government is spending only half of what is needed to implement the Columbia Basin salmon recovery plan.

Representatives of American Rivers, Trout Unlimited and the Sierra Club said the document backs up their contention that the Bush administration is failing to adequately fund measures needed to save a dozen endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead runs. In addition, the cost estimates, said Michael Garrity, spokesman for American Rivers, "confirm that trying to save Snake River salmon without removing the lower Snake River dams will be very expensive."

Jeff Curtis, Northwest representative of Trout Unlimited, said partial measures or half-hearted efforts will not work and said Bush needs to increase funding to the full amount in his next budget request, which will come out Monday. "We challenge the president to make good on his pledge to save salmon by giving this plan a chance to work, or to step up with something that will," Curtis said.

The cost-estimate and accompanying internal memos were obtained in December through a lawsuit challenging NMFS' 2000 biological opinion approving federal hydropower operations under the Endangered Species Act. Federal officials unveiled the final "non-breaching" or "All-H" recovery plan and BiOp in December 2000.

The cost estimate was pulled together about a month earlier by regional NMFS officials based on various federal agency budget estimates but were never disclosed to the public. The costs are broken down by agency and include NMFS, the Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management and the Bonneville Power Administration.

The total cost to implement the recovery plan for all federal agencies in FY2002 were projected to be $857.9 million, including $461 million in costs for the Bonneville Power Administration. The environmental groups say that is twice as much as President George W. Bush sought in his FY02 budget request after taking office a year ago. For FY2003, NMFS' cost estimate was $918 million.

The figures do not include the $110 million Pacific Salmon Fund, which provides grants to West Coast states mainly for coastal salmon restoration projects.

NMFS Northwest office spokesman Brian Gorman said this morning (Feb. 1) the cost estimate figures were probably accurate. "Implementing the biological opinion is expensive," Gorman said Friday.

"But what you want to have to implement a program and what you get are two different things" after budget estimates wind their way from regional to national offices, the administration and Congress, he said. The agency's task is to use whatever funds are appropriated as efficiently as possible in the salmon restoration effort, Gorman added.

He urged critics to "hold off at least until Monday," when the president's FY03 budget package is released.

The salmon plan includes a number of performance standards against which progress will be measured at key check points in 2003, 2005 and 2008. Adequate funding for recovery measures in the plan is one of the standards. Environmentalists said failing grades at any of the check points could force a resurfacing of the option to remove four federal dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington to facilitate salmon recovery.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush opposed breaching the lower Snake dams and charged the Clinton administration's was keeping the option open.

The regional NMFS' 2000 cost estimate was apparently prepared for the headquarters of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the White House Office of Management and Budget, and was a work in progress. "We have received an urgent request from the NOAA budget office for more information to support/justify the budget we submitted for implementing the BO and the All-H Paper," regional NMFS official Ric Ilgenfritz wrote to other employees in a Nov. 27, 2000 e-mail message.

The e-mails and cost estimate were obtained by environmental groups during the pre-trail discovery process in a lawsuit against NMFS by the National Wildlife Federation and others.

Ilgenfritz indicated that regional federal officials had pressed the White House Council on Environmental Quality to commit to implementation and funding of the salmon plan but that the OMB had raised questions about the cost estimate. "If you'll recall ... CEQ responded that it was willing to release a budget with the (plan) on Dec 15 in order to signify the administration's commitment to full implementation. Well, CEQ forwarded the proposed budget from the region to OMB, which sent it back down to each agency's budget office," said Ilgenfritz, who was coordinating NMFS' response to questions from NOAA's budget office.

Feds' Internal Salmon Plan Cost Estimates Released
Columbia Basin Bulletin, February 1, 2002

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