Swift and Passionate Reaction
by Tom Banse
OLYMPIA, WA - The Obama Administration has finally laid its cards on the table for Northwest dams and endangered salmon. The new administration wants to largely maintain the course set under the Bush Administration. But it opened the door just a crack for dam removal on the lower Snake River. KPLU's Tom Banse reports on the passionate reaction.
The Obama team created a good measure of suspense and trepidation by taking all spring and summer to review a 2008 Bush-era plan for Northwest salmon and dams. The end result is a document that in so many words says the region is on the right track to save its iconic salmon and steelhead. The new administration's point person on this is Commerce undersecretary Jane Lubchenco. She told reporters on a conference call that the plan with some tweaks should pass judicial muster.
Jane Lubchenco: "Our determination is that the whole package that was submitted to the judge is indeed biologically and legally sound."
The recovery plan would increase the already high spending to save Northwest salmon by another 100 million dollars per year. Bonneville Power Administration chief Steve Wright says the lion's share of that cost is folded into wholesale electric rates. That eventually filters down to your electric bill.
Steve Wright: "With a solid plan and an approach to address uncertainties in place, our hope is to focus on implementation rather than preparing for the next court appearance."
The Obama Administration puts removal of four dams on the lower Snake River on the table, but calls that "an action of last resort." Breaching those dams is a top priority of salmon advocates. The Sierra Club's Bill Arthur was dismayed after he read the details.
Bill Arthur: "They only ask for a plan to study how we would evaluate whether or not to do dam removal. That would happen seven years down the road. It doesn't make anything happen. It certainly doesn't make anything happen in a timely way."
A group representing Northwest river users such as shippers and ports does not find it particularly threatening to crack open the door to dam removal. Glenn Vanselow directs the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association.
Glenn Vanselow: "Our view is that they're not likely to find that dam breaching will be beneficial. That has been the case over and over as the federal government has reviewed it many times in the past."
The new administration in the other Washington does not have the last word on river operations. All eyes now turn to the courtroom of federal district judge James Redden. He's thrown out two previous river management plans. Spokane author and analyst Mike Barenti says the Obama team didn't fundamentally change course in this latest plan, but clearly throws some bones to the judge.
Mike Barenti: "Particularly, he's talked about dam breaching. It appears he wants some alternatives. You know, what would it take to breach the dams? I think even the mention of dam breaching probably came in because it's something the judge has talked about so it's something the government has to address."
Barenti guesses the federal judge doesn't want to take control and manage the Columbia and Snake Rivers himself. But the author suggests it would be "a fool's errand" to predict how the judge will rule next. There's no deadline for a verdict. I'm Tom Banse in Olympia.
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