U.S. seeks delay in Columbia River biological opinion case

The Justice Department seeks a two-month delay for the Obama administration to review NOAA Fisheries’ biological opinion for operating the Columbia River Basin federal hydropower system.

In a May 1 letter to U.S. District Judge James Redden, the Justice Department said Obama administration officials want an additional 30 to 60 days ‘to more fully understand all aspects’ of the biological opinion. The government previously indicated it would report to the judge by May 1 whether discussions to resolve a legal challenge to the ‘biop’ would be productive.

“We have now had an initial meeting with the plaintiffs and the other sovereigns to hear their concerns,” Coby Howell of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division wrote. “At the end of the 30- to 60-day period … we will advise the court and the parties of the administration leadership’s perspectives on the biop and whether additional discussions are warranted.”

At a meeting April 2, the court had indicated it would like to give the new administration leadership an opportunity to become fully engaged in the litigation. Since that meeting, agencies have briefed administration officials in Washington, D.C., on content and status of the 2008 biop, which NOAA Fisheries released in May 2008.

A national coalition led by dam removal advocates filed suit in federal court in June 2008, challenging the biop. (HNN 6/25/08) The coalition sought review of the biop for alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act. The coalition criticized the plan for failing to include significant changes to the region’s federal hydro system, and for ignoring the four dams on the lower Snake River it says do the most harm to the basin’s endangered salmon: 634.6-MW Ice Harbor, 810-MW Little Goose, 810-MW Lower Granite, and 810-MW Lower Monumental.

Environmental groups urge review of Bush salmon policy

The heads of seven environmental groups recently called on the White House to “revisit and substantially improve” Bush administration salmon and dam management policies on the Snake and Columbia rivers. Their April 23 letter calls for the Obama administration to consider major changes to federal dam management and river operations “up to and including removal of the four lower Snake River dams.”

The letter, addressed to Nancy Sutley, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, was signed by presidents or executive directors of American Rivers, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, the Endangered Species Coalition, Friends of the Earth, National Wildlife Federation, and the Sierra Club.

Washington congressman defends dams against removal

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, said the dams are necessary.

“Since November, a major dam removal attack has been launched to persuade the new president and his administration to reverse the ‘no dam removal’ policy established over the past eight years,” Hastings said.

“The citizens of the Northwest overwhelmingly oppose tearing out the four Snake River dams. We can recover fish runs and protect our dams. It’s time we again stand up and speak out against dam removal as an extreme action that won’t help fish but will increase energy prices, hurt our economy and cost us jobs.”

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