Question Role of Judge in Salmon Caseby Editorial Board
Capital Press, December 21, 2007
The ESA should not be treated as gospel
What is the role of a judge? Is it to interpret the letter of the law, paying attention to precedent, or to satisfy his or her own ideals of what should be done with a situation?
And if a judge leans more towards the latter, should that judge be allowed such great power and responsibility without any accountability for his actions?
In the case of U.S. District Judge James A. Redden, he has appointed himself to be the savior of Northwest salmon and the expert on science surrounding the fish.
Three times he has thrown out federal biological asessments, put together by the Bonneville Power Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. BuRec is a not-for-profit federal electric utility that operates the dams, and BPA sells the hydroelectric power from the dams.
Redden has thrown out opinions in 2004, 2005, and now in the fall of 2007. He set Jan. 4 as the period of comment deadline, and a new biological opinion that looks at the dams and threatened or endangered fish must be in by March 18.
The Endangered Species Act requires salmon to be protected with the best available science.
The U.S. government believes it has offered the best scientific options, which were peer-reviewed and discussed with various sides that have an interest in what happens to the salmon.
But there lies the problem. Bluntly, if Redden doesn't agree with the science reports or trust the scientists- and it's obvious he doesn't - he believes he has the ultimate right to give strict directions to change and appoint his own scientists. That is exactly what he has threatened to do.
It is unbelievable that a judge can do this.Think what would happen in criminal cases if a judge took it upon himself to not only judge the credibility of witnesses, but then say he will call his own and believe only them.
Redden has used tough threats that make it clear he probably won't be satisfied until some extreme measures are considered - and probably acted upon.
Those measures are becoming evident: Redden wants to increase the water flow for the fish.
This could mean less water for farm irrigation, or even more extreme, removing four dams on the lower Snake River.
From higher electricity bills to impacting barge traffic, the removal of dams is a drastic decision that might be just what the judge wants.
One of the thing that upsets Redden is government funds are not assured from Congress for the $1.5 billion the plan projects for mitigation projects such as "habit improvements, hatchery reforms, predator control and modifications to some dams to help ocean-bound salmon smolts avoid often lethal spillways," reported Associated Press.
In case the judge hadn't noticed, getting Congress to guarantee money for anything is tougher than say, salmon trying to swim upriver to spawn.
Whether the next assessment by BPA, BuRec and the Army Corps of Engineers will satisfy Redden in the next few months remains to be seen.
At some point, there should be acknowledgement that there are more than fish that depend on the water. The ESA should not be treated as gospel: Human needs should also be considered, whether for power, transportation, or agricultural needs.
But in the meantime, the public should be careful about giving this judge so much power. People should understand not only the consequences of Redden's demands, but also the dangerous precedent he may set for the judicial system.
Judge Redden is All We've Got by Editorial Board, The Daily Astorian, 12/13/7
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