WASHINGTON, D.C. - Congressman Bob Smith (R-OR), Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, and three key northwest lawmakers today criticized the Three Sovereigns Forum for failing to clearly define it's authority over Columbia Basin water use issues and for excluding a broad range of river use interests from it's decision making process.
In a February 27th letter to Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, Rep. Bob Smith (R-OR), Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), Rep. Michael Crapo (R-ID), and Rep. Rick Hill (R-MT) expressed concern that the Three Sovereign Forum's recently-announced Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) excludes important Columbia Basin stakeholders from the decision making process. In addition, the lawmakers pointed out that the Forum's lack of clearly defined authority may lead the Forum to simply duplicate the efforts of well-established, congressionally-authorized organizations such as the Northwest Power Planning Council.
"As you well know, Congress has requested that Columbia Basin interests get together to reach an agreement that can truly be described as a regional consensus on a wide variety of river issues. The Three Sovereigns Forum to date, however, does not meet this test. Without the active participation of all river interests in the drafting process, any agreement would immediately be viewed as too favorable to one side or the other. We suggest that you take steps to broaden the group to include government officials, fish and wildlife advocates, energy providers, and transportation and agriculture interests," wrote Smith, Hastings, Crapo, and Hill.
"The electric ratepayers of the Pacific Northwest already fund a well-established, congressionally-authorized group to address anadromous fish issues in the Columbia and Snake River systems: the Northwest Power Planning Council. Why initiate an entirely new process that will largely duplicate the congressionally-mandated and ratepayer-financed Council?" the lawmakers wrote.
"A final agreement on these complex issues ought to resemble what everybody is seeking: a regional consensus. The Three Sovereigns Forum to date has not involved all river interests. This places our ability to reach a regional consensus at very serious risk," the lawmakers wrote
"We must reach a consensus on Columbia Basin water use issues, but we're not going to get there by refusing to listen to Oregon's farmers and ranchers, or to those who rely on the Columbia's hydropower," Smith said today.
The Three Sovereigns Forum was created in early 1997 by the governors of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana, along with Columbia River Basin Indian Tribes and federal agencies to recommend a solution to Columbia River management issues.
Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District - which includes most of eastern, central, and southern Oregon - in the U.S. House of Representatives.