Tribe Poised to Join Action Against BPAby Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, October 17, 2001
The Nez Perce Tribe is seeking to join a lawsuit filed by a coalition of electrical cooperatives charging the Bonneville Power Administration has overextended itself.
The cooperatives, including Clearwater Power of Lewiston, claim the federal agency promised too much to too many when it told aluminum smelters and other industries in the Northwest it could supply them with below-cost power.
The tribe agrees and claims fish that use the Snake and Columbia rivers will suffer because of the agency's promises.
"The Nez Perce Tribe is intervening in this case because we want to ensure salmon and steelhead do not bear the brunt of Bonneville's financial decisions," said Samuel N. Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe.
BPA raised its rates this summer following a power shortage that prompted the agency to buy electricity from the expensive open market. The high cost caused the agency to pass the expense on to nonprofit cooperatives, such as Clearwater Power.
The agency has contracts and obligations to provide about 11,500 megawatts of power but produces only 8,500 megawatts itself, according to the tribe.
Recently, 25 electrical utilities filed a lawsuit in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals claiming public bodies and cooperatives have first rights to power generated from the federal hydropower system.
"We are saying if you are short on power, you should have never subscribed the direct service industries," said Bop Pierce, director of marketing and member services for Clearwater Power.
The cooperative raised its rates by 25 percent in May to meet the higher costs, but Pierce said Bonneville should have canceled the industrial contracts or provided the direct-service industries with power at market prices instead.
The tribe, along with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation and the Yakama Nation, wants to join the lawsuit and said the contracts with direct-service industries are causing Bonneville to sacrifice fish for power.
"Bonneville's decisions leave little if any room for salmon measures such as flow or spill," said David J. Cummings, Nez Perce tribal attorney.
Bonneville declared a power emergency that lasted much of the summer and caused water -- that is normally spilled over eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers to help juvenile salmon and steelhead make it to the ocean -- to be held back for power generation.
If the tribes do join the case, it will likely benefit the electrical utilities, according to Pierce.
"I think it just substantiates the validity of the initial case."
Pierce also said the lawsuit will benefit most tribal members because Clearwater provides much of the reservation with power.
"The tribe has a lot of accounts with us, so indirectly it affects the price they pay for electricity as well."
Ed Mosey, a spokesman for BPA at Portland, Ore., would not comment on the merits of the case but said the agency has the discretion to enter into contract with direct-service industries.
"We believe we acted in accordance with the law," he said.
Mosey said the agency has an obligation to supply 1,500 megawatts of power to the industries but, because of the energy crisis, has paid them to shut down for up to two years. He denied the hydropower system has been run for the industries at the expense of fish.
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