News from the Front #72:

April Follies, or, After Iraq, Let’s Bomb BPA, NMFS and the Northwest Power Planning Council

 All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth in their military chests; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in the trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

     Abraham Lincoln (Jan. 27, 1838)

         April was a cruel month for Northwesterners seeking to throw off the yoke of environmental oppression.  The Bonneville Power Administration, its noble mission of providing “power to the people at cost” long subverted to “slush funds for special interest groups”, pursued outright fraud to raise rates yet again.  A bomb planted by the Clinton Administration, acting through the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), has gone off in Federal District Court in Portland, Oregon, feeding the blame-the-dams follies in the press.  And the Northwest Power Planning Council, after flirting with a return to rationality in Regional fish & wildlife planning, has proved, yet again, that it is an utterly useless agency that ought to be abolished. 

         Having raised its wholesale power rates 46% in October 2001, utterly destroying the great natural advantage of the Northwest in low-cost electricity, BPA recently announced that it was invoking a Cost Recovery Adjustment Clause in its published rate schedules to raise rates as much as 15% more.  It did so by producing computer models showing that it could not make scheduled Treasury payments.  The models, however, were crooked, for they pretended that BPA’s expenses this year are approximately $315 million more than they will be, and failed to account for the fact that BPA had already made over $400 million in prepayments on the Treasury obligations. 

Oregon’s leaders, actively litigating against BPA in several cases to force even higher electricity rates (“for the fish”), tell us not to worry, for we can all look forward to a glorious future serving lattes to tourists.  The press mindlessly reprints BPA’s press releases reporting its glorious accomplishments in controlling costs¾akin to Baghdad Bob’s reporting of the success of Saddam’s troops.  BPA recently admitted that had made so many bad deals that two-thirds of the financial benefits of the Federal hydropower system¾power plants with no fuel charges¾now flow to investor-owned utilities rather than the customers BPA serves. 

         As for the bomb, for its parting act on salmon, the Clinton Administration produced a telephone-book-sized “biological opinion” declaring that Federal hydropower operations jeopardized the continued existence of Columbia Basin salmon.  The Clintonistas (nearly all of whom continue to infest the halls of NMFS) declared that they had a “reasonable and prudent alternative” to the proposed hydropower operations that would not jeopardize the continued existence of the salmon, which involved a vast program of “off-site” mitigation to meet the “needs” of the fish.  Based on years of experience with this process, I am highly confident that the biological opinion was designed to self-destruct upon judicial examination, for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has long held that a jeopardy finding cannot be avoided by reference to mitigation programs, unless such mitigation programs are “reasonably certain to occur”.

         On May 6, 2003, Judge Redden confirmed his April draft opinion in the case brought by the environmentalists (with Oregon as their “friend”) seeking to set aside the biological opinion.  After an astoundingly inaccurate summary of the facts, including the whopper that “salmon . . . remain in a state of perilous decline”, and a quotation from a prior Court opinion whining about inadequate protection of salmon (which I personally had vacated by the Court of Appeals), Judge Redden lights the fuse prepared for him.   Quoting the State of Oregon, the Judge finds that the biological opinion simply fails to identify off-site mitigation actions “reasonably certain to occur”.  Doubtless the press and politicians will call for another orgy of ecosystem spending to be tacked on to the customers’ bills¾already larded with $500 million a year or more in such spending.

         Had there been a single party before the Court with the intestinal fortitude to scream out the obvious, Judge Redden might not have lit the fuse.  The biological opinion isn’t wrong because it doesn’t have enough ecosystem spending in it; the biological opinion is wrong because the salmon aren’t endangered to begin with, because hydropower operations obviously don’t jeopardize their continued existence, and because the Clintonistas grossly distorted the Endangered Species Act so as to make dams responsible to offset all sources of salmon mortality everywhere (an impossible task).  The “endangered” salmon, meanwhile, ignore these farces and continue to return in the highest numbers ever counted.

     Common sense having been banished from all the relevant governmental agencies, only private interests could be expected to defend it before the Court.  Unfortunately, private electric ratepayers were represented by entities such as the Public Power Council, a body riddled with a fatal conflict of interest.   Sensible, rural public electric utility districts have their votes nullified by larger public entities such as Seattle City Light, which cannot stand the thought that we might not raise rates further “for the fish”.  Others had a different problem.  As Orwell said, “in times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”.  Being a revolutionary, and exposing lies about salmon, is simply not good for business.  So the high-priced attorneys representing ratepayers twiddled their fingers.

     The final act in the April Follies was the astonishing collapse of reason at the Northwest Power Planning Council, which as recently as last October had been poised to recommend trimming fish spending of the most idiotic sort:  supplementation of flows in the mighty Columbia River during the peak of spring run-off because there “wasn’t enough water” for fish.  Faced with public pressure from the fish extremists, the Council agreed to do again what it does every time it reconsiders its fish and wildlife program:  keep doing the same thing and call it an “experiment”, even though sixteen years of such experiments have failed to prove that the billions of dollars washed away by such activities produce a single additional fish.  But nothing the Council does matters anyway, for the Council is a rarity in governmental organizations:  an entity that as a matter of law does not matter, for everything it decides is merely advice for other agencies that make the real decisions.

     So after watching all the cheering Iraqis last month enjoying freedom from government oppression, I say to the Bush Administration, let’s bomb BPA, NMFS and the Northwest Power Planning Council.  Instead of a bunker-buster, the opening shot in the war can be the quick termination of the BPA Administrator and the NMFS Regional Administrator, and introducing legislation to abolish the Northwest Power Planning Council   Thereafter, new appointees can carpet-bomb the remaining Clintonistas in BPA and NMFS, and we can bring freedom for family-wage jobs in the Northwest.  Because right now, all these enemies are a greater threat to the Northwest than any tinhorn dictator abroad. 

 © James Buchal, May 6, 2003

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