Fishing and conservation groups, clean energy advocates call for immediate status conference
Contact: Emily Nuchols, firstname.lastname@example.org, 503.230.0421 ext. 15 or 360.510.8696 (cell)
PORTLAND, Ore., August 11, 2009 — Today a broad coalition of businesses, clean energy advocates, and fishing and conservation groups filed for a status conference with District Court Judge James Redden, who is presiding over the case against a 2008 Bush administration salmon plan. Groups are joined by the State of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho. This filing comes on the heels of Monday’s news that Judge Redden had granted the Obama administration’s request for a third extension of its review period for the 2008 Bush administration Columbia and Snake river salmon plan. The groups also released information indicating that the Obama administration appears headed toward adopting the Bush plan, which has been criticized by scientists and the courts, and runs counter to the advice of Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), more than 70 members of Congress, three former Northwest governors, and more than 200 businesses and 110 scientists from across the nation.
“We are willing to talk about the next steps and would love to find some common ground with this administration, but we’re skeptical about their path,” said Nicole Cordan, legal and policy director of the Save Our Wild Salmon coalition. “Unfortunately, nothing that we’ve heard or seen to date indicates that we’re likely to see anything more than the same general Bush administration salmon plan 30 days from now. Adopting the standards and analysis in the Bush plan while adding a few additional bows to the box, doesn’t change the contents of the box — it’s still an illegal and scientifically corrupt plan, not the result of a thoughtful review by an administration that has repeatedly stated the importance of scientific integrity.”
After hearing arguments in the case challenging the May 2008 Bush salmon plan, Judge Redden issued a guidance letter stating the court’s preliminary conclusions about specific legal and scientific shortcomings in the plan. The Court has deemed three out of the last four federal plans. The judge encouraged the Obama administration to sit down and negotiate with the coalition, the State of Oregon, and the Nez Perce Tribe. Obama administration officials asked for more time to review the plan twice more, and Judge Redden agreed. The new deadline is September 15.
“It appears that the Obama administration has allowed politics, not science or the law, to guide its salmon decision-making,” said Steve Mashuda, attorney with Earthjustice. “Unfortunately, it looks like the same decision-making model the Bush administration used — an insular process that tries a few more bells and whistles, but doesn’t result in any real change for fish or the people who depend upon them.
During the review, the Obama administration met with the plaintiff parties only twice — once with the fishing and conservation groups and once with Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe — in “listening sessions” where they remained virtually silent as fishing interests or sovereigns spoke. Documents uncovered in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show that the federal agencies spent most of the last 100 days talking internally, relying heavily on information presented by the Northwest bureaucrats who crafted the current plan during the Bush administration.
“While I’m sure the administration will claim that it is presenting a much-improved salmon plan, by allowing the flawed scientific analysis to stand, accepting the Bush administration's radical new jeopardy standard, and by failing to take significant steps to actually reduce the impacts of the dams on salmon, the Obama administration will be effectively endorsing the major failings of law and science that, during the Bush administration, resulted in tremendous losses of salmon jobs up and down the West Coast,” said Zeke Grader, Executive Director, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. “Fishing communities and fishing businesses deserve much better from a President who promised change, a stronger economy, and family-wage jobs.”
According to the documents obtained through the FOIA during the current review period, Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and regional agency offices presented one-sided information to Obama decision-makers about alternatives to the Bush salmon plan. For example, BPA presented inaccurate information stating that the coalition’s preferred alternative of lower Snake river dam removal would require building three nuclear plants to replace up to 3,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity and would cost as much as $800 million per year in energy replacement costs alone. However, a recent analysis of dam removal energy replacement costs by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council shows that those BPA numbers are far off base. The Power Council analysis, which is still being refined, shows that only about 575-750 MW of replacement resources are necessary and at a cost of approximately $170 million to $320 million per year — less than half the BPA estimate. This would equate to a 1.3% to 2.3% increase in electric rates.
President Obama has made several public statements about protecting sound science. In his inaugural address, the President said that his administration would “restore science to its rightful place…” At the 160th Anniversary of the Department of Interior, he said that he would “help restore the scientific process to its rightful place at the heart of the Endangered Species Act, a process undermined by past administrations[,]” and look “for ways to improve the [ESA] — not weaken it.” The President echoed those statements in a speech before the National Academy of Sciences where he said: “Under my administration, the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over… To undermine scientific integrity is to undermine our democracy… [We will] ensure that federal policies are based on the best and most unbiased scientific information.”
“This Bush salmon plan is completely inconsistent with President Obama’s public statements about relying on sound science,” said Jim Martin, former Chief of Fisheries of the Oregon Department Fish and Wildlife. “As I and more than 100 fellow scientists state in a letter to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, this plan has ‘several serious scientific deficiencies’ and merely making a few cosmetic additions cannot change that fundamental problem. We scientists believed the President when he said he would protect science and strengthen the ESA, but Secretary Locke has seemingly allowed political pressure to circumvent a decision based on sound science.”
Along with the release of FOIA-obtained documents and the court filing, Martin and more than 110 scientists signed a letter to Secretary Locke urging him to reconsider the seriously flawed Bush salmon recovery plan for the Columbia and Snake rivers. The scientists’ letter highlights a number of scientific concerns with the Bush plan, including its new jeopardy analysis that would allow just one additional fish returning each year to satisfy ESA requirements, its over-reliance on habitat measures to make up for the harm caused by the federal dams, the roll-backs of in-stream salmon protections like spilling water over the dams, and the “reckless approach to the impacts of climate change on Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead.”
“Adopting this plan is bad for salmon and threatens to undermine protections for imperiled species across the country,” said Cordan. “On both substance and process we believe the Obama administration, like the Bush administration, has failed to heed the science and the court’s guidance. We expected more from this administration.”