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Fate of Klamath dams still uncertain; Daily briefing Company that owns dams will defer choice to state regulators and federal officials

OMAHA, Neb. Herald and News 5/4/08.

The American Indian tribes and salmon fisherman who had hoped to earn a private audience with billionaire Warren Buffett failed to win much support Saturday for removing four dams along the Klamath River. Buffett again told the protesters that his company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., won’t decide the fate of the dams its PacifiCorp utility owns. Instead, Berkshire will defer to regulators in California and Oregon, where the Klamath runs, and to federal officials.

Buffett also said he promised regulators when Berkshire bought PacifiCorp in 2006 that he wouldn’t interfere with that utility’s operating decisions.
   The protesters, who were making their second trip to Berkshire’s meeting, have promised to keep the pressure on Buffett and his Omaha-based company until they achieve their goal of dam removal or at least win an audience.
   “We feel like we’ve been listened to everywhere except PacifiCorp,” said Leaf Hillman, a member of the Karuk Tribe.
   One protester said Buffett disrespected the group last year by refusing to discuss the issue or meet with them.
   “I don’t think we meant in any way to be disrespectful last year,” Buffett said.
   This year Buffett turned to David Sokol, who oversees Berkshire’s utility companies, to offer detailed responses to questions about the future of the Klamath dams when they come up during the meeting.
   The dams PacifiCorp owns on the Klamath are up for relicensing, a process that started in 2000 and may continue five or six more years.
   “There are a whole series of issues to deal with as part of the federal regulatory process,” Sokol said.
   28 interest groups
   Chief among the issues is sorting out what 28 different interest groups concerned about the dams on the Klamath want to happen. Sokol said there are at least four different preferred outcomes different groups favor.
   Buffett said it’s up to government to balance those competing interests.
   “In the end, we will do exactly what they say,” Buffett said.
   The tribes view the fight to remove the dams as a fight for their own survival.
   “It’s the fight for the salmon, and it’s the fight for our species,” said Frankie Myers, a member of the Yurok tribe.
   So the protesters have been more aggressive at this year’s Berkshire meeting than they were last year.    They chanted “Un-dam the Klamath! Bring the salmon home!” while Berkshire shareholders enjoyed complimentary cocktails and food at a reception Friday night.
   And similar chants briefly drowned out Berkshire’s Vice Chairman Charlie Munger during the meeting Saturday morning.
   Berkshire’s PacifiCorp subsidiary serves 1.7 million customers in six Western states.
   PacifiCorp is one of more than 60 Berkshire subsidiaries. Berkshire owns insurance, clothing, furniture, and candy companies, restaurants, natural gas and corporate jet firms. Berkshire also has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Co., Anheuser-Busch Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.


Letters can be sent to: Regulatory Liaison, Pacific Power, 825 NE Multnomah, Suite 800, Portland, OR  97232

E-mails can be sent to:  klamathquestions@PacifiCorp.com


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