Tribes Complain about BPA Budget Cuts,
by Bill Rudolph
Fifty-four Northwest tribes have called for a full audit of BPA's fish and wildlife program as the agency's budget-cutting exercise threatens some tribal programs, especially those not related to implementing BiOp mandates for improving ESA-listed fish stocks. A lengthy resolution passed by the tribes called for triggering a cost recovery clause "if necessary and appropriate" that would allow the agency to make its annual Treasury payment and still fully fund F&W efforts.
The announcement came as tribal leaders testified at a special Feb. 13 Northwest Power Planning Council session, during which BPA brass and NMFS representatives explained how they were prioritizing the fiscal year 2003 F&W budget.
The tribes' resolution claims BPA "has failed to reveal a truthful and accurate accounting of its expenditures" and, by threatening to reduce fish and wildlife funding, the power agency "risks setting back recovery efforts taken by the tribes, states, local governments and other stakeholders such as irrigation districts for years to come." The resolution also points out the "loss of economic activity associated with implementing restoration contracts."
BPA spokesman Ed Mosey said agency budgets are transparent and an outside audit of BPA conducted a few years ago by accounting firm Moss Adams recommended that fish and wildlife contracts be "scrutinized more strongly." (see NW Fishletter issue 53)
Mosey said BPA is committed to satisfying its obligations under the BiOp, and that the $139 million budget ceiling is still 39 percent above the F&W budget from the previous rate period.
Attorney Tim Weaver, representing the Yakama Nation, told council members that the tribe doesn't support amending the F&W program by cutting the budget to $139 million. He said BPA is cutting contracts already, so it's not just a "concept," as BPA officials have testified. He said the power agency was not waiting for the council to approve cuts "and we're feeling the pain."
BPA "can't explain it to you, you don't understand it, that's clear. We don't understand it. It's a shell game with no pea," Weaver told the council.
By this week, the budget crisis was not over, but power council members listened to F&W lead staffer Doug Marker explain updated cost estimates, which still left little room for expansion of mainstem/systemwide projects this year. He said council staffers are confident that the final number will come in below BPA's $139 million target.
Other council members expressed concern that costs of implementing proposals that satisfied BiOp mandates would still shortchange older, established council programs that focused on non-listed fish species or wildlife.
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