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Oregon Governor's Salmon-Power Plan Criticized

by Associated Press
Spoksman Review - October 25, 1999

PORTLAND--Raction was positive whn Gov. John Kitzhaberf first floated his revolutionary proposal to save both salmon and low-cost poser in the Northwest.

But already, fault lines have appeared in the plan that would have the four Northwest states band together to propose a new authority to govern the operation of federal dams in the Columbia Basin.

In an impassioned speech last month in Seattle, Kitzhaber said the four states should purchase outright the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency that markets electricity generated at federal dams.

That means the Norhtwest would have direct control over dam operations, even though the dams still would be owned by American taxpayers and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers--and would mean the Norhtwest could tell Washington, D.C., how to operate the dams so that fish are saved and rates held in check.

Officials from Washington state, which consumes 60 percent of the electricity sold by the BPA, are skeptical of any proposal that would cut their share of low-cost power.

Gov. Gary Locke "needs to look after Washington's interests first," said Keith Love, a Locke spokesman. "Our first responsibility is to Washington residents and ratepayers."

Northwest tribes are suspicious of giving too much authoritiy to the states, whose interests, they say, favor power and punish fish.

"It's in the parochial interest of the states to continue generating cheap power," said Don Sampson, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "We have not seen them do what's right to save salmon."

Aides to Dirk Kempthorne, Idaho's governor, think Kitzhaber is foolish to attempt presenting a proposal to members of Congress before the end of the year and before having a clear consensus from the region.

"Anything we do is goig to be huge," said Mike Field, and Idaho appointee to the Northwest Power Planning Council. "It's a little ambitious."

Lack of argeement regionally could doom Kitzhaber's proposal, because establishing a new governance structure would need congressional approval.

"It's hard to imagine legislation involving state and tribal governments going anywhere without the support of states and tribes," said Ed Sheets, former executive director of the Northwest Power Planning Council.

Kitzhaber aides, however, remain optimistic.

"There's a lot being said at this point by the various parties that sound like impediments to the discussion beginning," said Eric Bloch, an Oregon appointee to the power council and one of the architects of Kitzhaber's plan.

"But at this point, I believe it's just the parties stakiing out positions in the regional discussion that most everybody acknowledges must happen."

Interviews with political leaders, industrial users of the Columbia River's power and conservationalists reveal consensus that Kitzhaber is right to press for a new way of making decisions about power production and fish restoration.

But that's where agreement ends.

"Kitzhaber is clearly onto something and gets an A for his goal," said Bruce Lovelin, executive director of the Columbia River Alliance, which represents aluminum companies and other industrial users of the Columbia and Snake rivers.

"He gets a much lower grade for the strategy and politics of making it happen."

Bloch said that while Kitzhaber would like to see the region gain greater control over how to protect fish and wildlife, he is not seeking to soften wildlife protections.

"If this issue ever turns into an effort to dumb down federal environmental standards, we would abandon it," Bloch said.

Kitzhaber's strongest support comes from Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, who co-wrote draft principles for the plan. Jong Etchart, a Montana appointee to the power council, said the four Northwest governors have scheduled a conference call in November to evaluate Kitzhaber's proposal.

by Associated Press
Oregon Governor's Salmon-Power Plan Criticized
Spoksman Review, October 25, 1999

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