Statements for and against on the House floor
by Elon Glucklich, Herald and News 3/6/11
Two amendments — 296 and 297 — that would strip funds from the Department of the Interior and prevent federal funding from being used for Klamath River dam studies drew heated debate last week on the House floor.
The Department of the Interior has spent $15 million of the $18 million appropriated for the dam removal feasibility studies on the Klamath River. Amendment 296 would jeopardize the last $3 million of that appropriation.
In proposing the amendments, U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., spoke about the need to place electricity needs of area residents over environmental and government concerns.
“Congress never authorized (the Klamath River) study,” McClintock said. “Congress never authorized the Klamath settlement … At a time when skyrocketing electricity prices threaten our economy and when acute capacity shortages threaten the reliability of our (power) grid, destroying 155 megawatts of clean, cheap and reliable hydroelectricity is simply insane.”
His colleague, Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., strongly supported McClintock’s amendments, saying that stopping the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement by any means necessary represents the wishes of his district’s residents.
Dam removal is a key element of the KBRA, which aims to establish sustainable water supplies and power rates for irrigators and restore Klamath River fisheries.
“The constituents I represent overwhelmingly oppose removing functioning hydropower and its associated benefits,” Herger said on the House floor. “I fully share that concern and the disturbing precedent it sets.”
Herger called the KBRA, as it stands, “a monumental failure that current federal laws and regulations provide no alternative that will allow these dams to be operated.”
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., offered tentative support for the McClintock amendments.
He said he supported efforts to negotiate on the KBRA, but added now was not the time to study the feasibility of dam removal using federal dollars.
“It’s clear to me that … there is little point in spending more of the taxpayers’ money, especially during these dire fiscal times, on an effort that is unlikely to move forward in its present form,” Walden said in a statement to the Herald and News.
But Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., strongly rebuked the comments from McClintock, Herger and Walden.
Thompson, who represents the coastal district where the Klamath River meets the Pacific Ocean, said the KBRA represents the best effort yet to bring river stakeholders together to hammer out a water-sharing agreement that benefits everyone.
McClintock’s amendments are “not wanted by any of the stakeholders: agriculture, conservation, local government, the dam owners, sportsmen and women, nor the tribes. It will exacerbate the already serious problems we face in the Klamath Basin watershed,” he said.
Debating cuts to the federal budget
Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress have been debating what parts of the federal government’s budget to cut since Congress convened in January.
The House late last month passed House Bill 1, which appropriates money until Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.
California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock’s amendments, 296 and 297, were included in that bill. The bill was sent to the Senate March 1. Senators are expected to vote on it in late March.
Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both D-Ore., said they oppose McClintock’s Klamath River amendments.
Tom Towslee, spokesman for Wyden, said Wyden shared Merkley’s views on the need to preserve federal funds for river studies.
“Sen. Wyden believes that the next logical step in this process is a study to clarify what needs to be done in the future, including the feasibility of dam removal,” Towslee said. He added that Wyden “will continue to support funding for that solution in future legislation.”
Attempts to reach the offices of Sens. Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both D-Calif., last week were unsuccessful.