Word Games Over Damsby Editorial Board
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - September 13, 2004
It's not nice to try to fool a judge about Mother Nature. It may not be smart, either.
Federal authorities have updated a portion of their plans for salmon recovery. They make a reasonable case that a new draft document, known as a biological opinion, might be part of a solution for threatened and endangered fish in the Columbia and Snake rivers. The proposals include promising steps, especially installing advanced bypasses to help salmon avoid dam turbines.
But in dropping previous promises to consider removing four dams if fish runs don't recover, federal agencies have played a shortsighted game with legal language. Their maneuver revolves around the scope of their authority and a narrow definition of what actions they must consider under federal law. In essence, they end up arguing that for purposes of the Endangered Species Act, the four Snake River dams must be treated as an natural part of the environment.
Maybe the interpretation will pass legal muster. Then again, the judge who ordered the revised plan might be anything but amused.
It's politically popular, especially with the Bush administration, to promise to maintain the dams in perpetuity. Eventually, however, the dams' fate is likely to rest more on science than on pandering. The best way to preserve the dams is to protect fish with concrete measures, not word games.
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