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Rep. Dicks: Delegation Hopes to Boost Basin Fish Funds

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - February 15, 2002

Like last year, Northwest members of Congress will try to exceed President George W. Bush's new budget proposal for endangered Columbia Basin salmon recovery programs, according to a House appropriations committee leader.

The FY03 budget, which was submitted to Congress on Feb. 4, would raise spending by various federal agencies to $506.1 million, $68 million more above this year.

Bush administration officials said the budget reflects the president's commitment to Northwest salmon recovery and provides "significantly more money" for fish restoration, research and monitoring, habitat improvement, including projects in the Columbia River estuary, and stream-flow enhancement.

But an aide to Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., a senior Appropriations Committee member, noted that most of the money comes from Northwest electric ratepayers -- through the Bonneville Power Administration. "It's ratepayer money; it's not money that the administration actually requests" from Congress, the aide said.

Nearly 57 percent of the $506.1 million, or $286.7 million, will come from Bonneville, whose operations are financed through electric rates and receive no annual appropriations from Congress. That is an increase of $33.4 million.

The administration does not seem to have added much new money in the rest of the budget to meet the demands of the National Marine Fisheries Service's biological opinion on the recovery plan, the staff member said.

Funding and budget commitments are important issues in both the BiOp and in a legal challenge recently filed against it by environmental groups. The lawsuit charges in part, that NMFS' biological opinion violates the Endangered Species Act because it is contingent on future funding from Congress that is not guaranteed.

Of the $219.4 million in discretionary spending proposed in Bush's budget for other agencies, the Army Corps of Engineers has the largest budget, $128 million, a $19.4 million increase. The National Marine Fisheries Service is next with $36.6 million, a $12 million increase.

Environmental groups argue that based on recently disclosed government cost-estimates, a total of more than $900 million in federal and BPA ratepayer funding is needed to keep pace with federal agencies' 2000 basinwide recovery plan for a dozen endangered and threatened runs.

Dicks agrees that higher spending levels are needed to implement the non-breaching recovery plan and keep the Columbia-Snake hydropower system in compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

"We're going to try and do as much as we can. We don't have a choice. We're in a race to stop the decline," another aide, press secretary George Behan, said. Dicks and other Northwest members of the House and Senate appropriations committees last year boosted FY02 congressional funding for both Northwest and Pacific salmon recovery above the president's request.

In his first budget after taking office in 2001, Bush proposed spending $431.5 million on Columbia Basin salmon recovery, according to White House Council on Environmental Quality figures. Congress raised that by $6 million and boosted the Pacific Salmon Fund and related programs for coastal species to $155 million, or $20 million than Bush sought.

But in FY01, there was no funding increase in response to the Columbia Basin salmon plan. Clinton administration officials, who developed the plan, said in late 2000 that it would require an increase in current year spending, but they subsequently left office after Bush was declared the winner of the presidential race, and no supplemental appropriation or budget reprogramming request was made to Congress for FY01.

In his FY03 budget, Bush increased Columbia Basin spending but cut coastal programs, to $130 million. Dicks also will work to restore that funding. But given the constraints of the wartime budget on domestic spending, "it wasn't as big a cut as we expected," Behan said.

Following is a breakdown of the BPA's planned $286.7 million in FY03 direct fish spending:

Rep. Dicks: Delegation Hopes to Boost Basin Fish Funds
Columbia Basin Bulletin, February 15, 2002

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