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Umatilla Electric Co-op CEO Testifies Before Congress on Need to Modernize ESA

House subcommittee hears firsthand accounts of ESA's fiscal and management impacts on power production in the Northwest
Walden Press Release 5/4/05

Washington, D.C. - Hermiston resident Steve Eldridge, General Manager and CEO of the Umatilla Electric Cooperative, testified today before the House Subcommittee on Water and Power, of which Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) is a member.  Today's hearing, titled "Stabilizing Rural Electricity Service Through Common Sense Application of the Endangered Species Act," focused on the rising costs of hydropower as a result of ESA compliance, which represents nearly 25 percent of operating costs for the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the primary power supplier to much of the Northwest.

"As we work to strengthen and update the 30-year-old Endangered Species Act, we must take into consideration the important balance between conservation and the production of electricity through clean, renewable hydropower and other means," said Walden.  "Ratepayers in the Northwest currently pay $600 million per year beyond their electricity costs to the Bonneville Power Administration for species and habitat conservation projects.  While the health and well-being of species in our region is most important, we also have a responsibility to make sure that these projects, and those like them throughout the nation, are driven by sound science and decisions that take into account the viability of both species and communities." 

During his opening statement at the hearing, Walden introduced Eldridge and cited recent examples of the need to address how we manage conservation in relationship to our river system.  Sea lions, for example, are positioning themselves directly in front of fish ladders to catch salmon, but due to regulations established by protection of seas lions under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the government is unable to take responsible action to aide in the recovery of the fish they consume.

"We need to ensure that the ESA and other federal protection laws do not strangle us by putting a chokehold on our ability to manage species recovery while also utilizing a river system that provides vital power, transportation and recreation to our region," Walden added.

Eldridge informed the committee that, "Since listing began - through 2004 - $5.3 billion have been expended for regional salmon and steelhead.  Bonneville Power Administration in 2005 will provide $700 million more for salmon and steelhead recovery efforts.  This means that since 1978 through the current budget period, Bonneville's rate payers would have provided nearly $7 billion for salmon and steelhead.  Currently, 28% of our wholesale power bill is made up of fish and wildlife costs.  New spending of an additional $300 million per year will soon be proposed."

"Even though we have 15 species of listed fish, we do not know what will constitute recovery.  There is no end in sight," Eldridge added in his testimony.

Since the ESA's inception in 1973, more than 1,800 species have been listed yet less than one percent has been recovered.  "Congress intended that this law recover species; to merely prevent a species extinction cannot be considered long-term, measurable success," said Walden, who last year sponsored H.R. 1662, the Endangered Species Data Quality Act of 2004.  Walden is currently working on readying the bill for reintroduction during this current session. 

Based on the Umatilla Electric Cooperative's experience with the ESA and its relationship to the BPA, Eldridge provided the Committee with the following recommendations in his testimony 

  • Recovery of the species must be defined at the beginning of an ESA listing;
  • Recovery actions must be modified by better information;
  • Recovery actions must meet performance standards;
  • The cost of recovery actions must be paid for by everyone, not just segments of society;
  • Other federal laws must be integrated with the ESA;
  • Recovery plans must consider the entire life cycle of the listed species;
  • Non selective harvest of endangered or threatened species must not be allowed; and
  • Recovery plans must have certainty of compliance.

Eldridge is in Washington, D.C. for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association's 2005 legislative conference. 

Congressman Walden represents the Second Congressional District of Oregon, which includes 20 counties in southern, central and eastern Oregon. He is a Deputy Whip in the House leadership structure and a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce as well as the Committee on Resources.

 

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