To highlight yet another example of how the Obama administration's environmental policies don't always look that different from the Bush administration's, note that today the National Marine Fisheries Service tried to assure a skeptical federal judge that a Bush-era salmon-rescue plan was just fine — even though it ruled out disabling dams on the Snake River.
For years, U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland has been ruling that the Bush administration's blueprint to bring back struggling salmon runs on the Snake and Columbia rivers just didn't measure up. When environmentalists, tribes, sportfishing interests and the state of Oregon complained that the Obama-era Fisheries Service plan was no better than Bush's, Redden gave the agency three months to review the plan.
A pivotal question is whether four dams on the Snake River — which produced about 5 percent of the Pacific Northwest's electricity, last I checked — should be "breached," meaning partially removed to let the river flow more freely again. The dams and the changes they cause in the river kill some of the small salmon migrating to sea there.
After a three-month review, the Fisheries Service said the Bush-era plan needed only minor modifications. It refused to start the years-long planning process that would be required to breach the dams. It didn't even budge on a lesser step: letting more water flow through the dams without producing electricity — "spill" — to help the fish.
The best quote of the day — and even this is a tired analogy, bearing witness to the tenure of this controversy — came from Nicole Cordan, a campaigner with Save Our Wild Salmon:
These guys came out with Band-Aids when we're hemorrhaging from a major artery. These are species that are already imperiled, and they're saying, 'We're going to do less for them.'
In a news release, the Fisheries Service justified its decision by pointing to Obama's request that Congress pump more dough into saving salmon (without, however, giving up any of the increasingly precious greenhouse-gas-neutral electricity produced by the dams):
Two years into the implementation of this (plan), the region’s efforts to protect salmon are on course. We considered new research and literature and will provide a full record of this information. Our review identified modest changes in the science since the (plan) was completed, and we have made appropriate adjustments.
Let's see what Judge Redden has to say this time. He's gotta be close to retiring, right?
Having watched this dance for more than a decade, I'm getting a feeling — and I stole this line from Kathy Fletcher, who's also gotta be near saying sayonara as head of People For Puget Sound — like I'm in Groundhog Day. But I have to ask: Who will be the one to learn, as Bill Murray did in that funny flick, that you have to try hard and do some deep introspection about your past life if you're going to change things in the future?
— Robert McClure