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 http://www.tri-cityherald.com/tch/opinions/story/7345206p-7257367c.html

More voices needed at river deliberations

 Monday, January 9th, 2006

U.S. District Judge James Redden persists in what many consider one-sided justice as he virtually excludes one side from his deliberations about the Columbia River.

Huddling with only government agencies and environmentalists, the judge has ordered more water spilled over hydroelectric dams.

Last summer ratepayers had to accept $75 million in additional power costs because the judge won't accept the study findings by NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration. Those studies indicate that barging young fish around the Snake and Columbia River dams makes sense. And statistical evidence seems to support the government agencies.

Many with economic and transportation interests in the river system believe the judge is leaving them out.

It appears they are right.

Some of the fault may belong to Redden. But the Endangered Species Act also is to blame.

That act puts protection of species not just ahead of everything else, but to a large degree that's also the only thing that has to be considered.

Yet communities always spring up along the great rivers of America. And humans deserve consideration, too.

Congress has shown interest over the years in revisiting the Endangered Species Act with this is mind.

It seems sensible.

No one seriously believes salmon and other creatures don't need help. But it is a convenient exaggeration by extreme environmentalists to argue that dams are the principal problem salmon face.

In fact, the numbers of returning salmon are believed by some scientists to be determined far more by events at sea than by the existence of hydroelectric dams.

"Environmental groups" in fact include most people on all sides of the salmon issue. Those speaking for economic consideration are not indifferent to the desirability -- even vital necessity -- of protecting as much of the natural environment as we have left.

And those who wear the badge of environmentalism as though it is their exclusive property are beginning in other arenas to accept reasonable compromise.

For example, Clifford Traisman, a lobbyist for Washington Conservation Voters and the Washington Environmental Council, declared recent legislative successes spring from cooperation.

"The environmental community," he said, "is being more diligent in bringing win-win issues to the Legislature that not only help protect our air, land and water, but also help our business-friendly manner. That combination has afforded us the opportunity to be taken more seriously."

We do not argue for elimination of the Endangered Species Act. Nor would we want it seriously weakened.

But in a world of diminishing resources and rising energy and economic expectations, a reasonable balance must be sought in public policy.

Judge Redden's reliance on one side -- no matter whether that side is merely zealous, seriously warped or trying to be fair to what it imagines the other side's positions to be -- is a mistake he should correct.

No matter how wise a judge he may be, his decisions will be wiser with more complete information.

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