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Power Panel Snubs Plea, Returns Chairman to Post

by Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, January 17, 2002

In a rare public display of the sharp rift in salmon policy between Oregon and the region's other states, the Northwest Power Planning Council on Wednesday rejected Gov. John Kitzhaber's pleadings and re-elected a Washington appointee chairman for a third term.

The power council is the top regional body for balancing salmon restoration and hydropower generation in the vast Columbia River Basin.

An Oregon appointee, Eric Bloch, was vice chairman until Wednesday. Normal council practice is for the vice chairman to succeed the chairman.

But council members from Washington, Idaho and Montana aligned against the two council members from Oregon, voting 6-2 to amend the council's bylaws and allow the chairman, Frank "Larry" Cassidy Jr., to serve more than the two terms normally permitted.

The chairman's vote carries the same weight on the council as the other seven. But the position is important because the chairman sets or approves the council's agenda and runs its meetings.

Oregon has favored more aggressive salmon recovery measures than the other states, calling for serious consideration of breaching federal dams and strongly criticizing the federal government for favoring electricity production over salmon protection during the power crisis last year.

Conflicts between the states are usually under the radar. Council meetings are normally staid and technical affairs, attended mostly by state and federal bureaucrats and representatives of tribal salmon programs.

Before the meeting, Kitzhaber wrote the governors of Washington, Montana and Idaho, asking them to instruct their representatives on the council to vote against the bylaw change. At stake, Kitzhaber said, was the council's ability to unite the region on complex and highly contested issues of salmon and electric power.

"I believe the strength of the council, and its resultant ability to achieve its important regional conservation purposes, depend largely on the esteem and support of the council in each of the four compact states," Kitzhaber wrote. "To preserve the council as a serious and credible regional institution, I hope you will urge your state's council members to oppose the bylaw change."

Council members from Washington, Montana and Idaho said they were taking the step not to exclude Bloch but because Cassidy is a competent leader who has made the council united and relevant. Cassidy, interviewed after the vote, called it a "housekeeping item" that Kitzhaber should not have made into a divisive issue.

Jonathan Brinckman
Power Panel Snubs Plea, Returns Chairman to Post
The Oregonian, January 17, 2002

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