Friday, July 1, 2005

Senator's salmon solution: Hide the facts

Always on the prowl for new ways of dismissing the threats of hydroelectric dams to migrating salmon, Idaho's U.S. Sen. Larry Craig has come up with a new twist on an old maxim.

Instead of killing the messenger of bad news, Idaho's senior senator now simply wants to kill the messenger and hide the bad news from public view.

Craig has chosen the customary political method used to reward friends and punish enemies: the power of the purse.

Inside a totally unrelated piece of energy legislation, Sen. Craig has inserted a vindictive provision to choke off funding to the Fish Passage Center, which for two decades has monitored salmon passage in the Snake River and provided fish counts.

In turn, these statistics have shown that hydroelectric dams kill migrating salmon.

As the best friend of Northwest dam operators in Washington, D.C., Craig denounces the Passage Center's numbers as flat wrong. Yet, like hydro executives who periodically condemn the center's statistics, Craig has no documentation to back up his charges, only his contempt for federal employees whose work reveals the poor performance of an industry that supports him politically.

As if anticipating that colleagues will delete his de-funding ploy before the energy bill is finally adopted, Craig's office called his gambit "a shot across the bow" of the salmon-monitoring agency. Translated: It's a threat he hopes will frighten the Passage Center into becoming an obedient mouthpiece for dam operators, not a source of honest statistical measurements.

But the center's director, Michele DeHart, defends the work of her staff of a dozen people and its $2 million budget as sound and accurate.

She's emphatically supported by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, whose chairman, Melinda Eden, told The Washington Post, "We have been asking for years for people with hard evidence of irregularities (in the fish statistics) to step up, and nobody has brought a single piece of concrete evidence."

The group's performance was solid enough for federal Judge James Redden in Portland, Ore., who recently ordered dams to spill water during summer months to protect the salmon. This apparently will result in a loss of income to hydroelectric companies, which presumably fired up calls to Craig for help from the electric utilities.

Sen. Craig could take a lesson from President Bush's sinking approval ratings: Public confidence has suffered because of deceit, phony "facts" and pressure on agency employees to fit facts to the Bush political agenda.

Sen. Craig surely suffers a loss of confidence by attempting to silence a federal agency doing its best to inform the public honestly.

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