Stern Censure of Bush Administration
by Jean Johnson
PORTLAND, Ore. - In one breath, U.S. District Judge James Redden called the federal government's plan to save Columbia River salmon an exercise ''more in cynicism than in sincerity.''
In the next, Bob Lohn, regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service - the federal agency theoretically responsible for the salmon - said the government might be forced to resort to the ''God Squad,'' an endangered species committee that is only called upon in extremely controversial situations to decide if federal projects should take precedence over animals or plants listed under the Endangered Species Act.
At issue, as usual, is water in the Columbia River - what goes through the dams for power production and what gets spilled to usher young salmon through the river's gauntlet to the ocean. And once again, Bonneville Power is waving its money flag.
The for-profit federal agency says spilling water per the Redden ruling would result in $67 million in lost power generation. Columbia River tribes and conservationists counter that the figure would amount to only $.20 a month for ratepayers; and in the larger scheme of BPA's $3 billion annual revenues, the amount is a small fraction.
Redden, though, was having none of the posturing. Despite Lohn's indication that the government would likely appeal the decision, Redden charged all involved to start working together in a meaningful way. ''I want you to take advantage of this moment to get together and start talking,'' he said. ''It's not an insoluble problem ... You've got an enormous responsibility here. You're the ones who can put it together.''
Hopeful rhetoric aside, it was business as usual from the utilities. ''We're frustrated,'' said Ken Banister, PNGC Power spokesman. ''We're certainly not convinced that the injunction is good for fish. We know it's not good for the economy.''
Banister and the nonprofit electric generating companies PNGC Power represents aren't the only ones unhappy with the Redden ruling. The tribes asked for considerably more water than Redden determined was adequate. More, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana do not support breaching any of the lower Snake River dams the way the tribes and environmentalists do: a tactic the coalition agrees would shore up struggling fall chinook runs.
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