News from the Front #4: 

Electric Ratepayers Taxed for New Tribal Gillnets

According to sources at the Bonneville Power Administration, BPA is about to spend approximately $379,000 in ratepayer funds to buy new gillnets for Columbia River Treaty Tribes.  By letter of July 9, 1999, William L. Robinson, the Assistant Regional Administrator of the Sustainable Fisheries Division of NMFS, sought "to keep the [Northwest Power Planning] Council apprised" of this development, though, for obvious reasons, the Council has not publicized the program.  As soon as the Tribes provide the "specifications regarding mesh type and net depth", BPA will issue a purchase order for the nets.  (There is some chance the Tribes will not be able to provide the specifications in time to get the nets for this year's harvest.)

Why is BPA doing this?  Because NMFS and the Council are telling it to.  But BPA is supposed to make its own decisions, and spend ratepayer funds to protect salmon.  How could buying new gillnets for the Tribes possibly protect salmon?  The new gillnets have bigger holes, which are supposed to let more endangered steelhead escape, to let the Tribes catch Hanford reach fish and endangered Snake River fall chinook salmon.  Of course, NMFS could simply apply the Endangered Species Act to cut back Tribal harvest, and maybe the Tribes would change their ways and fish selectively.  Instead, NMFS wants to perpetuate an indiscriminate and inefficient fishing method that flunks Fisheries Management 101.  As usual, NMFS protects fishing interests, not fish.

If BPA and the other Federal agencies were still governed by law, ratepayers could go to court and get an injunction against BPA's expenditure on the ground that BPA has no authority to tax its ratepayers to solve other people's ESA problems.  But the Ninth Circuit would probably declare that buying the Tribes new gillnets was well within BPA's authority to "conserve" salmon.  After all, just this year, the Ninth Circuit decided that BPA could reduce salmon survival in the name of conserving salmon, so long as that's what NMFS wanted. 

The latest rumors out of United States v. Oregon suggest that NMFS will allow the Tribes to kill up to 31% of the returning endangered fall chinook this fall.  The "scientific" justification for this decision is the claim that tagged Upper Columbia fall chinook should now be used to predict ocean catch of Snake River fall chinook salmon, instead of the tagged Snake River stock that has been used since the fish were listed.

Bonneville Boasts to Environmentalists About Unprecedented Salmon Rate Hikes

In News from the Front #1, I reported that Senator Slade Gorton's rider to Amendment No. 677 to the Energy and Water Appropriations Act, 2000, which has been passed by the Senate but is not yet law, expressly authorized BPA to collect funds for dam removal.  This novel result was achieved by expressly approving BPA's "Fish Funding Principles", which BPA's customers had challenged as unlawful. 

Now BPA's Senior Vice President, Power Business Line, Paul Norman, has written to seven environmentalist groups (Sierra Club, Idaho Rivers United, Friends of the Earth, American Rivers, Save Our Wild Salmon, Trout Unlimited and Northwest Energy Coalition) proclaiming that "your input over the past 18 months has had a significant influence on the financial package we will be proposing in the rate case".  He describes the environmentalist-driven increased rates in considerable detail:

". . . specifically, our rate proposal will include a very large provision for cost uncertainty, primarily fish cost uncertainty, In an nutshell, we expect to include a $100 million increase in fish recovery money in our base case costs.  Layered on top of that will be about $170 million per year in planned net revenues for risk, $100 million per year in a cost recovery adjustment clause, and $100 million per year in carry-forward reserves.  In addition, but not given any credit in the Treasury payment probability analysis, is the potential for a wires charge of up to $100 million per year, risk mitigation provided by Slice purchasers and our ability to raise rates to 3-year contract purchasers if necessary.  Most of these risk mitigation measures are unprecedented.  None of them are included in our current rates." (Emphasis added.)

The net result?  "As you know", writes Mr. Norman, "the proposal creates unprecedented expected reserves of $1.4 billion by 2006."  (Emphasis added.)  In truth, the number could (and probably will) be far higher, because the Fish Funding Principles were designed by the Clinton/Gore Administration to build a war chest for dam removal.

Once upon a time, BPA followed the course set by law, in statutes that require it to sell electricity at cost, at the "lowest possible rates".  But now a new breed of Administrator governs BPA, one beholden to national environmental groups, rather than the citizens of the Pacific Northwest.  And now BPA is seeking to exercise its monopoly powers, particularly in transmission (hence the unlawful "wires charge"), to collect money for those it now serves:  environmentalist bureaucrats building a salmon recovery empire. 

James Buchal, July 29, 1999

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