August 12, 2009

Tale of two Northwest sagas: Hanford dust-up may be over, while salmon suit marches on

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There have been significant developments this week in two of the longest-running environmental sagas in the Pacific Northwest, both pitting locals against the federal government. One is ostensibly resolved, while the other looks like it might never end:

  • The mega-slow cleanup pace of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation has been the subject of years of fights between Washington and the federal government, with deadlines set and agreed upon, and then promptly broken. This week Energy Secretary Stephen Chu traveled to Washington and inked another deal, again with court-enforceable deadlines, appearing near Hanford with Washignton Gov. Christine Gregoire and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski. The deal gives the feds another 20 years to get the job done, Scott Learn of The Oregonian points out. (Chu also announced — and this seems like it should have gotten more attention — the release of $343 million in stimulus money to build new transmission lines to help use the Northwest’s rapidly increasing supply of wind power. Tip of the hat to Anna King of KPLU for covering this.)
  • Meanwhile, down in Portland, environmentalists and the state of Oregon have prosectued a yearslong court case against the Bush administration, claiming its plan to rescue salmon on the Snake and Columbia rivers is inadequate. The fish are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and many environmentalists say the only sure way to save them is to knock out four dams on the Snake. For a while speculation rose high that U.S. District Judge James Redding would step in and run the federal hydropower system on the rivers, but he seems reluctant to do so. In the latest development, Matthew Preusch of the Oregonian reports that fish advocates who breathed a sigh of relief when President Obama was elected are getting the feeling it’s the same old same old from the feds:

The state, environmental groups and the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho say they’ve been effectively shut out of the administration’s deliberations over how to run the region’s network of big, power-generating dams without pushing salmon closer to extinction.

The criticism comes from some of the same people who not long ago were applauding the Obama team’s entry in the decades-long and multi-billion dollar conundrum surrounding the imperiled and iconic fish.

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