Environmental Coalition Sues NMFS over Salmonby Landon Hall, Associated Press
The Spokesman Review, May 4, 2001
Lawsuit claims Columbia and Snake River dams harm environment
PORTLAND _ A coalition of environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service on Thursday, claiming the federal agency's policies affecting Columbia and Snake river dams are driving endangered salmon toward extinction and "causing irreparable harm to the Northwest."
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, charges that a biological opinion issued by the federal agency last December contains fundamental scientific and legal flaws that make it too easy to favor energy over saving fish.
"The main point here is, we have a lot of ways to meet our energy needs," Todd True, an attorney with the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund in Washington, D.C., said in a conference call. "These salmon only have one river forever. If we do not support them, they will go extinct."
Brian Gorman, spokesman for the NMFS regional office in Seattle, said the lawsuit ignores the real danger of a drought this summer. Experts fear that low water levels and soaring power prices could lead to rolling blackouts.
"I don't know where these people think they are. We are in the middle of a terrific drought," Gorman said. "We intentionally put a provision in there to allow the BPA to act in the event of a drought."
Spilling water through dams to help young salmon migrate to the ocean is required under a federal fish recovery plan, but the Bonneville Power Administration -- which markets low-cost electricity generated at 29 Northwest dams -- twice declared power emergencies last month and temporarily waived the plan's requirements.
The BPA, responding to intense criticism from environmentalists and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, could soon announce plans for a limited spill.
"I think we're gratified to see Bonneville put spill back on the table, but it's difficult to expect long-term results and scientifically analyze something they're turning on and off like a faucet," said Jim Stearns, regional director for the National Wildlife Federation.
Environmentalists say the entire NMFS biological opinion should not be scrapped, but they object to the provision allowing the BPA to sacrifice salmon to maintain power reliability.
The plaintiffs described the provision as a "blank check" for the BPA.
"These agencies need to stop the extinction clock, not make it run faster," said Jeff Curtis, western conservation director of Trout Unlimited.
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