Senator targets agency in salmon flap
WASHINGTON ” Angered by a federal court order to spill extra water through federal dams to save endangered salmon, an Idaho senator is trying to kill the agency that tallies the survival of fish as they swim through the heavily dammed Columbia River Basin.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, is angry at a recent ruling by U.S. District Judge James Redden requiring the Bush administration to spill additional water over four hydroelectric dams in the Columbia and Snake rivers to help young salmon migrate to the sea.
The Bonneville Power Administration, which sells electricity generated by the dams, estimates that spilling the water rather than running it through turbines will cost Northwest customers about $67 million.
The language Craig has inserted into an energy spending bill that could be voted on next week would eliminate the Fish Passage Center, an 11-person agency in Portland that collects and analyzes data documenting how effective the government’s multibillion-dollar effort to save salmon has been.
A spokesman for the Idaho senator called the measure more than an attack on the tiny agency, which has an annual budget of just $1.3. million. Instead, the spokesman, Sid Smith, called it “a shot across the bow” to challenge what Craig considers an excessive amount of money being spent on fish and wildlife recovery by the BPA, which supplies about 40 percent of the power used in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and western Montana.
“It’s time not just for the Fish Passage Center, but all of the fish and wildlife expenditures of BPA to be re-examined to see if we can find any efficiencies or inefficiencies and make sure we are getting the most bang for the buck,” Smith said Friday.
The BPA, which operates a system of 31 dams and one nuclear plant, spends about $300 million a year on programs to protect fish and wildlife and loses another $250 million a year in potential revenue because of those programs ” which overwhelmingly benefit salmon, said Mike Hansen, a BPA spokesman.
BPA funds the fish passage center but does not control its operations, which are administered by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission.
“Power rates are going up. We think ratepayers ought to have some answers for how their money is being spent,” Smith said.
Asked if Craig believes that data collected by the fish passage center is reliable, Smith said, “I think Senator Craig has been concerned with some of the positions that the fish passage center has taken” to advocate salmon recovery.
He declined to offer specifics, but Michelle DeHart, the center’s director, said Craig and other Republicans were unhappy that data on fish survival was used to support Redden’s May 26 decision rejecting a Bush administration plan for salmon recovery. Redden later ordered the additional spill to boost the survival of threatened and endangered salmon migrating to the Pacific Ocean.
“Maybe this is one of those deals where when you don’t like the message, you kill the messenger,” DeHart told the Washington Post.
Her staff collects “data that is accurate and, yes, it does show that the federal hydro system kills fish,” DeHart said.
Nicole Cordan, policy and legal director for Save Our Wild Salmon, a Portland-based advocacy group, said Craig’s effort to eliminate funding for fish passage center was “making it hard for people who care about science or fish to stop what he’s doing. He’s doing it behind closed doors in that doesn’t allow for public review and public comments.”
While the fish center is his immediate target, Cordan said Craig’s real goal was to undermine Redden’s May 26 opinion, which rejected the Bush administration’s $6 billion plan to balance the Northwest’s power needs with those of threatened and endangered salmon. Redden’s ruling, which followed a similar order in 2003, said the administration violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to protect salmon.
The ruling sent officials back to the drawing board to come up with a new plan.
Craig has hinted he may try to invalidate Redden’s opinion through a legislative initiative such as a rider on must-pass spending bill for the Interior Department and other agencies.
His spokesman, Smith, said Friday that Craig and other Republicans are considering a rider, but “have not decided what exactly will be our path forward if we do choose to take action.”
On the Net:
Sen. Craig: http://craig.senate.gov/
Fish Passage Center: http://www.fpc.org
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