Oregon Electric Co-op CEO Testifies Before Congress on Need to
WASHINGTON, DC - Hermiston resident Steve
Eldridge, General Manager and CEO of the Umatilla Electric Cooperative,
testified today before the House Subcommittee on Water and Power, of
which Oregon Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) is a member. Today's
hearing, titled "Stabilizing Rural Electricity Service Through
Common Sense Application of the Endangered Species Act," focused
on the rising costs of hydropower as a result of ESA compliance,
which represents nearly 25 percent of operating costs for the
Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the primary power supplier to
much of the Northwest.
"As we work to strengthen and update the
30-year-old Endangered Species Act, we must take into consideration
the important balance between conservation and the production of
electricity through clean, renewable hydropower and other
means," said Walden. "Ratepayers in the Northwest currently
pay $600 million per year beyond their electricity costs to the
Bonneville Power Administration for species and habitat conservation
While the health and well-being of species in our
region is most important, we also have a responsibility to make sure
that these projects, and those like them throughout the nation, are
driven by sound science and decisions that take into account the
viability of both species and communities."
During his opening statement at the hearing,
Walden introduced Eldridge and cited recent examples of the need to
address how we manage conservation in relationship to our river
system. Sea lions, for example, are positioning themselves directly
in front of fish ladders to catch salmon, but due to regulations
established by protection of seas lions under the Marine Mammal
Protection Act, the government is unable to take responsible action
to aide in the recovery of the fish they consume.
"We need to ensure that the ESA and other
federal protection laws do not strangle us by putting a chokehold on
our ability to manage species recovery while also utilizing a river
system that provides vital power, transportation and recreation to
our region," Walden added.
Eldridge informed the committee that, "Since
listing began - through 2004 - $5.3 billion have been expended for
regional salmon and steelhead. Bonneville Power Administration in
2005 will provide $700 million more for salmon and steelhead recovery
efforts. This means that since 1978 through the current budget period,
Bonneville's rate payers would have provided nearly $7 billion for
salmon and steelhead.
Currently, 28% of our wholesale power bill is made
up of fish and wildlife costs. New spending of an additional $300
million per year will soon be proposed."
"Even though we have 15 species of listed
fish, we do not know what will constitute recovery. There is no end
in sight," Eldridge added in his testimony.
Since the ESA's inception in 1973, more than 1,800
species have been listed yet less than one percent has been
recovered. "Congress intended that this law recover species; to
merely prevent a species extinction cannot be considered long-term,
measurable success," said Walden, who last year sponsored H.R.
1662, the Endangered Species Data Quality Act of 2004. Walden is
currently working on readying the bill for reintroduction during this
Based on the Umatilla Electric Cooperative's
experience with the ESA and its relationship to the BPA, Eldridge
provided the Committee with the following recommendations in his
Recovery of the species must be defined at the
beginning of an ESA listing; Recovery actions must be modified by
better information; Recovery actions must meet performance standards;
The cost of recovery actions must be paid for by everyone, not just
segments of society; Other federal laws must be integrated with the
ESA; Recovery plans must consider the entire life cycle of the listed
species; Non selective harvest of endangered or threatened species
must not be allowed; and Recovery plans must have certainty of
compliance. Eldridge is in Washington, D.C. for the National Rural
Electric Cooperative Association's 2005 legislative conference.
Congressman Walden represents the Second
Congressional District of Oregon, which includes 20 counties in
southern, central and eastern Oregon. He is a Deputy Whip in the
House leadership structure and a member of the House Committee on
Energy and Commerce as well as the Committee on Resources.