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Group Touts Salmon Act

by Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, July 20, 2001

The environmental lobby celebrated the introduction Thursday of the Salmon Planning Act.

At the same time, it tried to shift public focus away from Snake River dam breaching and toward prudent planning for salmon recovery and taking care of people who would be hit hardest by dam removal.

It is, environmentalists say, a backup plan in case current salmon recovery efforts fail and Congress or federal agencies need to take immediate action.

"We just want to be ready when the time comes," said Steve Ellis, director of water resources for Taxpayers for Common Sense.

And, he added, "We're trying to make dam breaching more palatable."

As expected, Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., filed his Salmon Planning Act 2001 on Thursday with 20 co-sponsors. The bill rekindled bitter debate over the future of the Snake dams that had been dormant for months.

The bill proposes three main things: A high-level science review of the National Marine Fisheries Service's river operations plan, a study of economic and energy impacts of dam breaching, and a transfer of power from Congress to top political appointees to call for dam breaching. Congress still would have to authorize spending for dam removal.

"This is the dumbest legislation I've seen in a long time," said Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash. "The goal of this bill is not salmon protection, it is dam removal."

In addition to a slate of Democrats, legislative support came from two fiscally conservative Midwest Republicans, a sign that Taxpayers for Common Sense is advancing its case that dam breaching may be in the best interest of taxpayers.

"Fish recovery schemes such as barging and trucking have proven to be expensive failures. Engaging in long-range planning on the lower Snake River is just plain fiscally responsible," said Autumn Hanna of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

For the last five years, the four dams between Pasco and Lewiston have been under intense scrutiny for their role in the serious decline of Snake River wild salmon.

One option studied and tabled by federal agencies is to remove the dams and create a more natural river. It's a strategy environmental groups argue is the best way to help the fish survive and avoid potentially costly lawsuits stemming from failure to meet tribal treaty obligations to preserve fish runs.

Dam breaching, however, would damage wheat farmers, irrigators and the region's energy production.

Salmon advocates say McDermott's legislation is important to support Eastern Washington economies tied to the dams.

"The bill would spur into action many of the provisions required by the government's salmon plan and federal statutes, and would ensure that planning would be mindful of all the resources and communities involved," said Steve Moyer of Trout Unlimited.

Until draft copies of McDermott's bill were leaked to the press Wednesday, there had been very little talk in public about dam breaching since President Bush took office in January. But environmentalists worked quietly on legislative language for four months, intensifying their efforts as they watched salmon recovery lose focus in the Northwest and Washington, D.C.

"It's not going away, no matter who is in the White House," Ellis said.

The bill also keeps dams and salmon in public view now that the Bonneville Power Administration has scrapped prominent fish recovery efforts, citing the regional power crises as justification.

"We're going backward, not forward," said Pat Ford, director of Save Our Wild Salmon, one of the groups that helped shape the Salmon Planning Act. "People in the Northwest who care about salmon ... are going to keep the pressure on."

But even Ford doesn't expect the Salmon Planning Act to pass Congress this year. "Not right away, obviously."

Part of the reason is that Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., is well-positioned in the Republican-controlled House to kill the bill, given his seat on the powerful Rules Committee. Hastings warned his colleagues in a Wednesday letter not to accept the "half-truths and misinformation" offered by McDermott.

"Their goal is not salmon recovery, it's dam removal," Hastings said. "That is why in their zeal to tear out the dams they ignore the (salmon) predators, ocean impacts and the fact that salmon are caught and served with a lemon dill sauce at your neighborhood Red Lobster."

Despite opposition, Ellis said parts of the bill could survive - especially if Hastings would "come back off Fantasy Island" and stop using inflammatory language to scare Congress from making prudent plans. "I don't think this is a far-out-there dam removal bill and I think Congressman Hastings wants to make it that way," Ellis said.

Mike Lee
Group Touts Salmon Act
Tri-City Herald, July 20, 2001

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