For Second Time this Month,
by Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition
Washington, DC -- In a hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Water today, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) once again took center stage in a discussion of how to restore salmon. Subcommittee chairman, Mike Crapo (R-ID) convened the hearing, which focused in part on BPA's recent cutbacks in Pacific Northwest salmon investments, as well as on the salmon recovery performance of federal agencies in recent years. Both topics raced to the forefront one month ago, when a federal district court ruled that the federal salmon plan, which Senator Crapo is examining at the hearing is illegal and must be re-written.
"We thank Senator Crapo for showing leadership for Northwest people and communities by putting BPA's cuts in salmon investments on the table ," said Bill Sedivy, executive director, Idaho Rivers United. "His leadership is appropriate and timely considering the economic impact the recovery of wild salmon could have on Idaho and its rural communities - about $90 million in 2001 alone."
Last week BPA announced a draft decision to reduce regional salmon recovery investments to a maximum of $139 million annually through 2006, with additional cuts possible. This is $100 million less than Northwest Indian Tribes estimate is needed, and $50 million less than what BPA committed to invest when the federal salmon plan was released two-and-a-half years ago.
On June 4th, Northwest tribal leaders told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) that BPA's ongoing financial and managerial problems are hamstringing salmon restoration efforts by leaving projects in drydock while delicate financial and political agreements unravel. They also stated that the federal government must treat the Tribes as equal partners if it hopes to develop a Columbia and Snake river salmon recovery plan that passes legal muster.
Following that hearing, the Northwest Power Planning Council sent a letter to the SCIA chairman saying that "we believe it is prudent to ensure there is no misunderstanding the fact that Bonneville has made significant reductions in its fish and wildlife spending program in fiscal years 2002 and 2003." The letter goes on to say, "we find the Administrator's [Steve Wright] statements of a 40-percent increase in spending to be inconsistent with the facts."
"Bonneville cannot continue to shortchange Northwest communities by cutting the region's salmon investments whenever it feels the need. " said Pat Ford, executive director, Save Our Wild Salmon. "BPA should reverse its draft decision, and sit down with Northwest states and Tribes to agree on an investment plan that is multi-year, dependable, and at the level needed to restore salmon.
BPA's draft decision estimates a five percent rate hike through 2006 for its utility customers,, down significantly from the 15 percent increase originally floated by the agency.
As usual, salmon-project funding will be at risk should BPA's optimistic income forecasts fall short again, observed Sara Patton, executive director, NW Energy Coalition.
Both Senate hearings come on the heels of a May ruling in federal district court that the current federal plan to recover Columbia and Snake River salmon violates the Endangered Species Act. This decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by Indian Tribes and salmon advocates. The court gave the Bush Administration a year to re-write the plan. While federal agency heads have since been quoted as saying that only small changes in the plan will be necessary, both the Tribes and salmon advocates will tell Senator Crapo the opposite: that meeting the test of law and treaty requires a much stronger and more certain plan, with more certain funding.
Listen to 6/24/3 Senate Hearing Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water. Hearing to examine implementation of the National Marine Fisheries Service's 2000 Biological Opinion for listed anadromous fish regarding operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System.
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