Now more than ever, as we sink in a cesspool of public and private debt brought on by a corrupted federal government, and we all tighten our belts, we can ill afford wasteful public spending. BPA’s recent announcements of “Memoranda of Agreement” (MOAs) with Pacific Northwest States and Tribes promise just that, with substantial hikes in electricity rates to fund another billion in salmon spending, and no real public benefits at all. And the MOAs only set a floor for wasteful fish and wildlife spending, not a ceiling.
The general design of the MOAs is a wholesale subversion of the decisionmaking processes crafted by elected officials in favor of agency decisionmaking by contract with special interests. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council has been charged by Congress to develop the Region’s fish and wildlife plan, and BPA is by law supposed to follow that plan, funding programs the Council and its independent scientists identify as appropriate. The Tribal MOA gives lip service to the Council’s program, but warns that it contains “specific and binding funding commitments” irrespective of Council decisions. Thus big new programs will be established to promote salmon parasites (lamprey), irrespective of the lack of public or Council support for such programs.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is supposed to review actions concerning endangered and threatened fish, but through the MOAs, many of the choices NMFS would dictate are now to be specified by agreement with the special interest groups. The dam operators will now be bound by contract to take the fish out of transport barges, irrespective of scientific evidence proving higher survival. They will be bound to spill water at dams, irrespective of scientific evidence proving massive outbreaks of gas bubble disease. The Tribal MOA even attempts to bind NMFS to approve the wholesale gillnetting of endangered salmon, declaring that “tribal treaty fishing rights were present effects of past federal actions that must be included in the environmental baseline” and that the MOA is based on the “assumption that NOAA Fisheries will give ESA coverage” to future harvests. Ordinarily, scientifically-based natural resource management decisions might be expected to evolve based on better science, but the MOAs even attempt to prevent such scientific evolution.
Under the Tribal MOA, all of the federal
agencies that actually know something about dam passage and salmon survival are
now to be forbidden from supporting “in any manner actions that undermine the
The scientific underpinnings of the
Real scientists, unlike those at the Center, do not need their political allies to gag those who would embarrass them with data. And if these agencies had any respect for law, they would recognize that they cannot possibly discharge their duties to use the best available scientific information in federal decisionmaking by committing themselves to fund junk science and gagging their own scientists. Administrator Wright stands in the shoes of a long line of governmental authorities who have attempted to defend a particular view of the world from scientific advancement, going all the way back to Galileo’s trials with the Church of Rome.
Spending another billion or so through the MOAs is imagined to be appropriate “mitigation” for the
effects of dam operations. The most
obvious problem with the “mitigation” theory is that there must be some adverse
impact to “mitigate”. With
higher-than-natural survival up and down the
A more subtle problem with mitigation is that
it presupposes some sort of legal entitlement to compensation. The Tribes that are to receive the lion’s
share of the billion dollars have already been fully compensated, years
ago. For example, in
Agreement No. DA-35-0260ENG-20098, executed in 1954, the Yakima Tribe
took over $15 million (over $120 million in today’s dollars) in exchange for
its promise to “release and forever discharge the Government . . . from all
manner of action and causes of action . . .
which the Tribe or . . . their people or their descendents may now or
hereafter have by reason of or resulting from the construction, operation and
maintenance of the [The Dalles Dam] Project”. All of the parties to the Tribal MOA signed
agreements like this, and were paid in
full for the present discounted value of all the fish ever to be caught in the
Yet the Tribal MOA specifically calls for further “mitigation for the losses to anadromous fish caused by the construction of . . . The Dalles Dam”. BPA cannot possibly lawfully pay the Tribes again for the same losses they released in 1954, but BPA has been shoveling out money for decades to the Tribes and others with no accountability. Many of the so-called “settlement” agreements have never been made public.
BPA no longer feels bound even to pretend
that the funding has something to do with asserted losses caused by Federal
Columbia River Power System dams. Thus
BPA proposes to pay one Tribe to “inventory and assess habitat status and needs
for anadromous reintroductions in
The MOA payments are most clearly understood as a gross looting of the public till. BPA has the choice of obeying its Congressional mandate to sell power at the “lowest possible rates”, or jacking up the rates to create a slush fund for looters. Administrator Wright was recently chastised by the United States Court of Appeals for raising rates by billions of dollars to fund illegal payments to the investor-owned utility (IOU) looters. In slapping him down, the Ninth Circuit observed that “Congress ordained one system; BPA appears to prefer another”, and declared that “the settlement agreements between BPA and the IOUs are inconsistent with the [Northwest Power Act]”.
The same is true of these MOAs. But Administrator Wright has no regard for law; he declares in the Tribal MOA that “regardless of any legal challenge, BPA will take steps to . . . imbed the estimated cost of implementing this Agreement in the agency’s revenue requirement to be recovered through base wholesale power rates”. By jacking up the rates right away, the slush fund will be created, and BPA can always dribble the money out later in ways that the public will never see.
No one is left to speak for the ratepayers. The largest BPA customers have been exterminated as part of BPA’s anti-industrialization policy. The Region’s public utilities, governed by publicly-elected boards largely ignorant of what is really going on, remain silent. Seven years ago, a Regional executive warned in a prescient speech that BPA has “come full circle, from an agency run by engineers who built things, to an agency run by political hacks who ration out the declining benefits from decaying capital to political supporters”. He concluded:
“The New Deal dream
was that impartial, expert administrators, freed from traditional legal and
Constitutional constraints, could bring immense public benefits to citizens of
As a new Great Depression looms,
and rapidly-rising transportation costs threaten to isolate the
© James Buchal, April 22, 2008
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