Judge says case against Berkshire subsidiary can proceed

San Francisco, California (AP) 8-07
A judge has denied the request of an energy company owned by Omaha, Neb.-based Berkshire Hathaway to dismiss a lawsuit claiming its dams cause pollution lethal to fish in a river along the California-Oregon border.

The suit was filed against Portland, Ore.-based PacifiCorp by a group of Klamath River tribal leaders, salmon fishermen, business owners and environmentalists in U.S. District Court in Northern California. The plaintiffs accuse the company of operating two California dams in a way that causes toxic algae blooms.

U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup ruled Friday that the suit can go forward, though he also wrote that he did not have the authority to require PacifiCorp to immediately alter its dam operations while the case is heard.

In the company’s motion to dismiss, lawyers for PacifiCorp argued that the algae in question is common in the Klamath River basin and other watersheds throughout California.

The Klamath was once the West Coast’s third-biggest producer of salmon, but last year federal fisheries managers practically shut down commercial salmon fishing after the third straight year of poor returns of wild chinook. Opponents have long pushed for the dams’ removal as a remedy to the salmon decline.

PacifiCorp is a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Salmon fishermen and representatives of four American Indian tribes staged protests at Berkshire’s annual meeting in May in Omaha and asked Buffett to intervene and remove four dams along the Klamath.

But Buffett said state and federal regulators, not Berkshire Hathaway, will decide whether the dams should be removed. Buffett also said he cannot interfere in PacifiCorp’s operating decisions because he swore he wouldn’t in an affidavit submitted to Oregon utility regulators.

On the Net:
PacifiCorp: http://www.pacificorp.com
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.: http://www.berkshirehathaway.com
Karuk Tribe: http://www.karuk.com
Klamath News: http://www.klamathnews.org