Lawmakers want Option of Breaching
The Spokesman-Review, August 5, 1999
One hundred seven members of Congress have signed a letter urging the Clinton administration to seriously consider all options for saving wild salmon, including breaching Snake River dams.
Among the signers are six Northwest Democrats, including Reps. Jay Inslee and Jim McDermott from Washington. Eleven moderate Republicans signed the letter, but none from the Northwest.
Ordered by the courts to consider every reasonable option for saving endangered fish runs, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to recommend in October whether the four Washington dams should be breached. In the end, the decision will be left to Congress, which would have to appropriate about $1 billion for the project.
More than 200 scientists in March signed a letter warning the White House that Snake River salmon likely will go extinct unless the lower 140 miles of the river is allowed to run free.
An interagency memo drafted by staff from four federal agencies concluded that breaching the dams may be less expensive than other options. Not saving the fish would likely prompt a costly lawsuit by Native American tribes with treaty fishing rights, and would violate the Endangered Species Act.
But breaching would eliminate $250 million in annual electrical production and end barging on the river. Many farm, business and labor groups -- along with most Northwest politicians -- have come out against the proposal, saying it would devastate communities that rely on the river.
Last month, Republicans on the House Resources Committee passed a nonbinding resolution opposing dam removal. That resolution was sponsored by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
Meanwhile, another Washington Republican, Sen. Slade Gorton, has vowed never to release money for dam removal. Gorton is chairman of the Senate Interior Department Appropriations Subcommittee, which holds the purse strings for any such work.
Wednesday's letter was drafted by Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., and Thomas Petri, R-Wis. It calls salmon "an economic and environmental asset whose preservation is a national responsibility."
"We urge that all scientifically credible options ... be considered with equal rigor and seriousness, and be subjected to the same scientific scrutiny and economic mitigation studies," the letter states.
Environmental groups and at least one budget watchdog group praised the letter in press releases.
"We need to start making some tough decisions in order to save money and save salmon," wrote Ralph DeGennaro, Executive Director of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "Lawmakers sent a message today that our resources should be targeted at the most promising solutions."
Staff for Inslee and McDermott could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
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