Water hearing stirs up debate
A congressional hearing Tuesday will determine whether the Bush administration unduly influenced environmental policy following the 2001 Klamath water crisis and the 2002 salmon die-off.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican whose district includes the Klamath Basin, called the hearing a “partisan witch-hunt” by Democrats that could hamper ongoing efforts to resolve Klamath River water issues by November.
“ T hey a r e s o c lo s e ,” Walden said of a 26-member group that is working on the issue. “Frankly, there are outside agitators that are trying to blow up that opportunity. There are some people in the process who would rather blow things up than work toward solutions.”
T h e H o u s e N a t u r a l Resources Committee meets Tuesday in Washing ton, D.C., to hold an oversight hearing titled, “Crisis of Confidence: The Political Influence of the Bush Administration on Agency Science and Decision Making.” The hearing stems from stories in the Washington Post that linked Vice President Dick Cheney to water policy decisions involving the Klamath River.
The decision to hold the hearing was made as the Klamath Settlement Group, a diverse g roup of river stakeholders, announced they planned to offer a detailed settlement by November.
Walden said he will attend and testify at the hearing.
“The question I’m asking is, ‘Why now?’ ” Walden said.
A 2003 investigation on the Klamath water crisis failed to uncover any political influence by Cheney or others in the Bush administration, he said.
Walden fears the hearing could be counter-productive, insisting, “It risks r enew i n g old r iva l r ie s and heightening tensions among stakeholders.”
In a letter sent to Rep. Nick Rahall, the committee chair, and Rep. Don Young, its senior member, members from an alliance of farmers and fishermen point out positive changes enacted since the 2001 and 2002 events, including “tens of millions of dollars for restoration work in the Klamath River Basin.”
“ We h av e w it n e s s e d first-hand the devastating impacts to communities and the environment which can occur as the result of federal decisions, whether to farms in the Klamath Basin or to coastal f ishing communities in Oregon and California,” the letter states.
“ Fa r mers a nd ra nchers in the Klamath River Basin have adopted innovative conservation practices, such as more efficient water distribution to irrigate crops.”
In the letter, signed by 39 people from a range of farm, irrigation and cattlemen’s groups, the signers write, “It is imperative the stakeholder group be allowed to continue their discussions without outside political wrangling, so they may bring forward their comprehensive, grassroots solution.”