Capital Press 6/21/13
SACRAMENTO -- California's top natural
resources official insists the state "is good for" a $250
million pledge to restore the Klamath Basin despite
lingering uncertainties about a state bond measure that
would provide the money.
State Natural Resources Secretary John Laird
said California would seek other means to pay its
contribution to the Klamath restoration and dam-removal
agreements even if a planned $11.1 billion bond is
eventually rejected by voters.
"This isn't required until 2020," Laird said
of the plan to remove four dams from the Klamath River. "If
for any reason the bond doesn't pass, we will be good for it
in another way and we will work on that. We know there's
lots of fluidity in the cost estimates and issues that will
move forward, but we hope these agreements are implemented.
"We hope to work with stakeholders on how
exactly to make good on that commitment in what we hope is
the unlikely event the bond doesn't pass," he said.
Laird's comments during a U.S. Senate hearing
June 20 in Washington, D.C., come as the project's costs
have come under scrutiny in Congress, where an authorization
bill has languished since it was introduced in late 2011.
Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee
Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told representatives from an
array of interest groups from the region that straddles the
Oregon-California state line the settlements' initial $1.1
billion price tag would be "simply unaffordable" given the
budget constraints Congress faces.
Wyden was encouraged when U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor told him the costs of
federal actions such as improving habitat for threatened
fish had already been reduced to $800 million, and that he
believed that $250 million could be shaved off that.
Responding to a question from Wyden about
where California stands given its own budget constraints,
Laird acknowledged there has been persistent talk about
reducing the size of the bond measure to make it more
palatable to voters or postponing it again until 2016, when
a presidential election will boost turnout.
However, he noted the California's Public
Utilities Commission did approve a Klamath project surcharge
to basin ratepayers on the California side of the state
line, and he said the Golden State's overall fiscal picture
"One of the challenges the governor (Jerry
Brown) undertook when he walked in the door in January 2011
was a $26 billion deficit in the state budget," Laird said.
"He is signing a budget this week that is completely in
balance with a surplus in future years. It was very hard
"In short," he said, "California is good for
its financial commitment. We are committed."
California Natural Resources Agency: http://resources.ca.gov