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Ninth Circuit Upholds Lower Court Injunction to Protect Salmon
From Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition
Friday, August 13, 2004
Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused the government's emergency request to stay an order from U.S. District Court Judge James Redden that requires the Army Corps of Engineers to continue releasing water at dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers during August for the benefit of migrating salmon. As scientists across the region have said repeatedly, these water releases are the safest way to help young salmon get downstream past the dams to the ocean. While these water releases have occurred during the summer months for years, this year the Bonneville Power Administration sought to curtail them. BPA touted large savings for electricity customers as its main reason; however, those large savings would have been only seven to ten cents per month for residential customers in Portland and Seattle.
The summer water release program is one of the few firm and consistently successful requirements in the Federal Salmon Plan for endangered salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers. That plan, while ruled illegal in May 2003, remains in force until a new plan now being written takes effect. But the Bush administration and its agencies decided not to implement the plan's spill requirements, and instead put forth "offsets" allegedly designed to compensate for the dramatic harm that curtailing water releases would cause to salmon.
Scientists from the tribes, the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all described these so-called offsets as "speculative" and unable to mitigate for the salmon killed by cutting water releases. Federal District Court Judge James Redden agreed with these scientists last month when he enjoined the government plan to curtail water releases.
In his opinion, Judge Redden highlighted the failure of the administration to implement the current Federal Salmon Plan and to meet juvenile salmon performance standards for the last three years as major reasons not to do less for salmon now. He stated that he was acting "to preserve the status quo" in light of the current "deficit situation" faced by salmon. Specifically, he stated that '[g]iven that we are working from a deficit situation, we should not be cutting back on an effective mitigation tool."
"By upholding Judge Redden's decision, the Ninth Circuit is affirming what we've known all along - gambling the future of wild salmon to save a few cents a month on our electric bills is not a tradeoff people in the Northwest want to make," said Todd True, staff attorney, Earthjustice. "We all look for ways to save money, but being penny wise and pound foolish hurts everyone. It's time for the administration to obey the law."
In addition to not living up to the promise of large ratepayer savings, the proposal to cut spill would have put salmon-dependent jobs at risk. NOAA Fisheries' own analysis states that holding back on the water releases could kill up to 742,000 young salmon.
"Thanks to the Ninth Circuit and Judge Redden, we have a positive vision for the future of the Northwest," said Liz Hamilton, executive director, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. "Our vision includes a healthy vibrant economy where salmon-dependent communities are whole and prospering - not bearing the burden of BPA's fiscal errors. And we are grateful that Oregon Governor Kulongoski defended our economy by opposing this curtailment of spill."
"The electric utilities have real concerns regarding the price of electricity - concerns that we take seriously and must come together to discuss," said Sara Patton, executive director, NW Energy Coalition. "Hurting salmon to save pennies, however is not a good plan, while aiding salmon and hurting people and businesses is not wise either. People in the Northwest want and deserve clean, affordable electricity AND wild salmon and through listening to each other and looking for common ground we can get there."
The plan to reduce summer spill was repeatedly criticized by the region's fisheries agencies. Unfortunately, the government's willingness to ignore sound science and instead make politically expedient decisions may be a harbinger for future salmon decisions. The federal government's court ordered revision of the Federal Salmon Plan is due in draft form at the end of this month and could reveal further disregard for science.
"Today is a day to celebrate; however we must not grow complacent," said Jan Hasselman, staff attorney, National Wildlife Federation. "If the recent attempts by this administration to thwart salmon recovery efforts are any indication, the draft plan due out later this month will be even worse than the one that the federal court threw out last year."
Pat Ford, executive director, Save Our Wild Salmon
"This administration will stop at nothing to roll back positive salmon recovery efforts. This is a significant victory for salmon-based communities in the Northwest. Salmon recovery should not be used as a political issue. It is an economic and cultural issue. We can choose to have a future filled with healthy communities, a robust economy and lots of wild salmon or we can choose to continue status quo dam operations and watch as the fishing-dependent communities follow the salmon and become a part of our past."
Rob Masonis, Northwest regional director, American Rivers
"The verdict is in: the Bush administration cannot shirk its obligations to protect wild salmon in the Columbia Basin. Instead of fighting to reduce salmon protections, it's time for the administration to honor the will of the people of the Northwest by issuing a new salmon plan for the Columbia Basin that will recover wild salmon, not just avoid extinction."
Kathleen Casey, NW field director, Sierra Club
"Reducing water releases would have been another link in the Bush administration's chain of attempts to eliminate protections for our endangered NW salmon. The judges agree with scientists and economists that, upon closer inspection, the Bush administration's policies are harmful to fish and the local communities that depend on them."
Bert Bowler, fisheries biologist, Idaho Rivers United
"Reducing water releases makes no intuitive sense - it is one salmon protection method now being utilized that really works. If anything, federal hydro managers should be looking for ways to increase these water releases, not reduce it."
For more information, contact:
Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition
2031 SE Belomont Street
Portland, OR 97214
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM Pacific
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