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Tribes Seek to Join Power-Price Suit

by The Associated Press
The Idaho Statesman, October 23, 2001

Northwest Indians say BPA's actions endanger area fish

LAPWAI -- Some Northwest American Indian tribes, including the Idaho-based Nez Perce, want to join a lawsuit filed by a coalition of electrical cooperatives alleging the Bonneville Power Administration has over-extended itself.

The cooperatives contend the federal energy wholesaler promised too much to too many when it told aluminum smelters and other Northwest industries it could supply them with below-cost power. The tribes agree, arguing that fish in the Snake and Columbia rivers will suffer because of the agency's promises.

"The Nez Perce Tribe is intervening in this case because we want to ensure salmon and steelhead do not bear the brunt of Bonneville's financial decisions," said Samuel Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee.

The Bonneville Power Administration raised its rates this summer because of a power shortage that prompted the agency to buy more expensive electricity on the open market. The expense was passed on to non-profit cooperatives and others.

Twenty-five electric utilities recently filed a federal lawsuit contending that public entities and cooperatives have first rights to power generated from the federal hydropower system.

"We are saying if you are short on power, you should have never subscribed the direct service industries," said Bop Pierce, director of marketing and member services for Clearwater Power.

The cooperative raised its rates 25 percent in May to cover the higher costs, but Pierce said Bonneville should have canceled the industrial contracts or provided the direct-service industries with power at market prices instead.

The Nez Perce, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation and the Yakama Nation want to join the lawsuit. They contend contracts with direct-service industries are causing Bonneville to sacrifice fish for power.

Bonneville declared a power emergency that lasted much of the summer. Water that normally is spilled over eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers to help juvenile salmon and steelhead make it to the ocean was held for power generation.

Bonneville spokesman Ed Mosey would not comment on the merits of the case, but said the agency has the discretion to enter into contracts with direct-service industries.

"We believe we acted in accordance with the law," he said.

Mosey said the agency has an obligation to supply 1,500 megawatts of power to the industries but, because of the energy crisis, has paid them to shut down for up to two years. He denied the hydropower system has been run for the industries at the expense of fish.

The Associated Press
Tribes Seek to Join Power-Price Suit
The Idaho Statesman, October 23, 2001

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