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Commission adds complaints to national energy bill

WASHINGTON - If the national energy legislation wasn't facing complaints enough, it found more to contend with when the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission came to Washington, D.C.

On Capitol Hill for the National Congress of American Indians' Executive Council winter session, the commission presented its own case against the embattled legislation. The Commission opposes a measure in the much-revised bill that would give dam operators a broad right to appeal conditions on the renewal of their dam licenses, according to public information manager Charles Hudson.

Currently, the renewals depend on environmental considerations, particularly dam impact on salmon and other Columbia River basin fish stocks. Under the proposed change in law, federal agencies such as Fish & Wildlife, the Forest Service and National Marine Fisheries would have to factor non-environmental concerns into their decision on alternatives put forward by the dam operators. Dam operators could appeal agency decisions on their plan to the departments of Interior, Agriculture or Commerce. Dams could then continue to operate as they have in the past throughout the prolonged cabinet-level decision-making processes. No other party to the license renewal process would share this right of appeal.

The Commission, founded by four Northwest treaty tribes, fears the provision's impact on fish and the environment, Hudson said. "Under the ? provisions, a hydroelectric license applicant would be able to avoid taking the steps necessary to protect fish and wildlife by proposing inadequate alternatives," read a letter from the Commission to select congressional members.

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The issue of dam license renewal is timely. Even as public criticism of dam impacts on the environment has steadily increased, dam operating licenses are set to expire in large numbers, now and in the foreseeable future. President George W. Bush has declared his strong opposition to the dismantling of dams, especially in the Northwest.

For political reasons, the national energy legislation failed to become law in last year's initial session of the 108th Congress. This year, for additional budgetary reasons, the bill has been heavily revised to reduce its cost. It is unclear at this writing whether the bill can make it to the Senate floor for a final vote. Several attempts to that effect have already been made, so far unsuccessfully.