June 04, 2009

ONE LAST CHANCE?

Guest opinion submitted by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

In a speech to the Northwest Energy Coalition conference recently I said that the conjoined issues of energy, water and anadromous fish recovery in the Pacific Northwest will likely be resolved by a comprehensive regional collaboration. Such collaboration will be necessary to achieve regional consensus that generates broad enough public support for Congress to act and plans be funded and implemented. Based on experience with collaborations, the participants must have the courage to bring all options to the table for discussion, including those with which they disagree. The most controversial of these ideas is dam breaching, about which I said, "Does that mean dam breaching must be on the table? Yes. But that also means not dam breaching must be on the table." I expressed willingness to lead such a collaboration, in conjunction with others, and share the risk of embarking on such a process. Naturally, reactions have been focused on the breaching debate, but my principle focus was and is on the process further required to develop a broadly-supported policy, namely, collaboration.

While multiple factors need much discussion, space limitations require that I focus on just a few key elements. Federal District Court Judge James Redden will, in the near future, issue a ruling on a lawsuit that challenges the 2008 Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) Biological Opinion. It is possible that the Judge's ruling will satisfy all and we can move ahead. But some litigants may be unhappy and will contemplate their next legal maneuvers. However, I want to urge all the litigants to strongly consider collaboration rather than extended litigation. My concern is that further litigation, by way of continued appeals, will result in years of ongoing uncertainty that will harm the business and energy interests that rely on the river while creating continued uncertainty about fish recovery measures. 

It is important to recognize that the 2008 FCRPS Bi-Op is itself the product of regional collaboration that has made gains toward regional consensus. But, not all of the states and tribes in the Pacific Northwest support this Bi-Op. However, the many people involved in developing it, including many of the litigants themselves, have done significantly useful work. They have taken proper advantage of their accumulated experience and better scientific understanding. My vision of the comprehensive collaboration that I suggest would logically include this work along with the presumed clarity and focus from the court. 

The Nez Perce Agreement is a federal law that established the amount of Idaho water dedicated to anadromous fish recovery. This agreement is sound, and I will aggressively defend both the agreement and Idaho water sovereignty. 

Once the ruling is issued, the challenge is to make a rational next step intended to resolve rather than prolong the controversy. I am concerned that continued litigation will further impede solutions to aid anadromous fish recovery and maintain vital economies that depend on the Snake River including, irrigation, transportation and energy production. I question whether the fish can wait that long and whether businesses and agricultural interests can continue operations with ongoing uncertainty. I made the suggestion that a comprehensive regional collaborative may well offer the region the best hope of developing a fish recovery plan that people will support and work to achieve. I am encouraged that my colleagues in the Idaho delegation are similarly engaged in the search for a solution and will continue to work with my fellow Members of Congress in the Pacific Northwest to explore all the possibilities that can resolve one of the most complex issues of our time. 

You can watch the full speech at my website, http://crapo.senate.gov. 

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