NW Lawmakers Take Stock Of Four-Hby CBB
Columbia Basin Bulletin - November 19, 1999
Northwest members of Congress who oppose removing dams to save at-risk salmon said the Four-H Working Paper this week confirmed their belief the federal agencies won't pursue that option.
But citing the vagueness of the document, some were less certain about that conclusion than others.
"The devil's in the details, but it looks like the dams may be off the table," Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said. "I may not have to chain myself to the top of the dams after all."
In public speeches on the issue, Smith has half-facetiously vowed to take that action if necessary to stand in the way of any wrecking balls.
"The good news is that while dam removal is still theoretically on the table, it seems that even this administration for the time being has abandoned it," Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., another ardent foe of the proposal, said. "The bad news is the administration seems to be demanding other changes in our way of life that I think are of highly questionable utility."
Gorton told the Seattle Times, "It sounds like the administration has decided it has lost the battle over whether or not it should take down dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers." But he added, "The battle over dam removal is far from over."
The Four-H Paper lays out four alternatives for the public and decision-makers in the Northwest to consider as possible salmon recovery plans. Only one includes breaching the four lower Snake River dams, which would have to be authorized and funded by Congress. The paper concludes, however, that if dam removal is not adopted as the solution, stringent and potentially costly measures will have to be taken to reduce other sources of fish mortality, including habitat destruction and pollution, commercial, sport and tribal harvest and traditional hatchery production of artificially bred salmon.
"The administration has given lip service to our own views, but in the ultimate analysis, the administration still wants to tell us how to manage our lives and our economy," Gorton said.
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, has fired similar criticism at the nine federal agencies that make up the regional Federal Caucus for meeting in secret and failing to consult states or take public input before producing the Four-H Paper. "We should be focused on turning it back into what it should be - an open collaborative process," Crapo, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on fisheries, wildlife and drinking water, said. "We're getting much too far down the road toward a federally mandated, top down driven process."
He noted National Marine Fisheries Service regional director Will Stelle and other federal officials who released the Four-H Working Paper appeared to be shifting their emphasis onto water quality and habitat improvement and away from the Columbia-Snake hydropower system.
"That tells me that significant new restrictions are on the way focusing on more than just the traditional questions of flushing the river or breaching the dams," Crapo said. "It signals there will be a major new federal management regime related to water quality and water quantity."
At the same time, he called the document itself "very general, and it's so general it's hard to tell where they're headed with it."
"I believe that there is an implication in this preliminary draft that there is going to be a very strong, renewed effort in tying the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act into a coordinated effort," Crapo said.
Although federal officials said the Four-H Paper was intended to stimulate a regional debate and consensus-building effort, Crapo complained the agencies developed the alternatives and decided what the public could comment on. "He has yet to hear from them when they are going allow the people to make decisions," communications director Susan Wheeler said. "(The paper) did not result because of public involvement but because the agencies met behind closed doors, and then said, 'Now what do you think?' That's backwards."
Crapo has appealed the government's decision to withhold minutes of meetings of the Federal Caucus and related documents he sought this summer under the Freedom of Information Act.
A group of Northwest Democrats, who have argued for continuing to study the breaching option in order to develop sound science, last month urged the Clinton administration to direct federal agencies to hold off on proposing any salmon recovery plan until after holding public meetings throughout the region.
"We believe that the future of the Snake and Columbia river salmon is a decision that the people of the Northwest need to be a part of and should be unbiased by agency recommendations before public comment occurs," eight Democrats said in a letter on Oct. 26 to George Frampton, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality.
One of them, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., agreed with the approach the agencies took this week and called the Four-H Paper "a good document for discussion."
Murray said the focus of the public debate up to now has been on breaching the Snake dams and that opponents of dam removal need to come up with feasible non-breaching alternatives.
"We all have to come together" in the region, she said, rather than be racked by bitter division or told what to do by a "decision from on high."
She defending holding another round of public meetings on the issue, saying the decision of how to restore salmon will be difficult "no matter what."
She said she hoped "people will back off on the political rhetoric" to help the process, adding that referred to "all of us."
She said she also hoped a decision on whether to breach the dams would be made "sooner rather than later" to remove uncertainty on that question.
Another Northwest Democrat said the report raised questions and laid the foundation for a lengthy legal and political battle over fish recovery effort. "We aren't even at the kickoff yet," Rep. Peter DeFazio, D Ore., told the Oregonian.
DeFazio said he expected the fisheries service to postpone its recommendation for several years as scientists gather more information.
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