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Cheney to skip hearing on Klamath salmon die-off 7-07

by MATTHEW DALY

WASHINGTON (AP) - Charging that Vice President Dick Cheney
contributed to a 2002 die-off of about 70,000 salmon near the
California-Oregon border, House Democrats planned a hearing Aug.7
to explore his intervention in the Klamath River Basin.

But some House Republicans say the hearing in the Natural Resources
Committee could upset negotiations to end years of battling over the
region, where drought in 2001 led to a cutoff of irrigation water -
and then a diversion to help farmers.

That diversion, directed in part by Cheney, resulted in the largest
adult salmon kill in the history of the West, Democrats say.

At the very least, Cheney's actions to help farmers at the expense of
threatened fish demonstrated the Bush administration's “penchant to
favor politics over science in the implementation of the Endangered
Species Act,” said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the
Natural Resources panel.

Republicans counter that there is no evidence Cheney did anything
improper and say the evidence doesn't support blaming his actions for
the fish kill.

In 2004, the Interior Department's inspector general found no basis
for a claim by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry that
White House political advisers interfered in developing water policy
in the Klamath.

Republican Reps. Wally Herger and John Doolittle of California and
Greg Walden of Oregon say the hearing couldreopen wounds even as
farmers, fishermen, Indian tribes and environmentalists near
solutions to the regional water woes.

While arguments are expected on all sides, one person who won't be
adding to the din is Cheney.

A spokeswoman said Monday the vice president - who as a Wyoming
congressman served on the committee - “will not be attending the
hearing.”

Rahall denied GOP claims that the hearing is a politically motivated
witch hunt.

“As I said when I became chairman ... back in January, I am
committed to conducting vigorous oversight - a constitutional duty
that this committee largely neglected in recent years,” Rahall said
in a statement. “Repeated troubling reports that political
considerations are trumping scientific facts in the implementation of
the Endangered Species Act ... constitute just one area in a long
line of problems plaguing the Interior Department that deserve
scrutiny by the Congress.”

Herger, whose district includes California agricultural areas
irrigated by the Klamath project, said it was only proper for Cheney
and administration officials to be involved in developing a 10-year
water plan for the Klamath River. Courts later called the plan
arbitrary and in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Court battles are continuing over how to divide scarce water among
farms, fish, Indian tribes and other users, but groups in the region
say they hope to work out a deal by fall to settle many of the issues
- including whether to remove four dams on the Klamath River to
increase salmon spawning habitat.

“We continue to be encouraged by what we are hearing of these
ongoing efforts by traditional adversaries to reach a longterm
solution to the problems of the Klamath Basin,” Herger and other GOP
lawmakers wrote in a letter to Rahall.

While they may not agree with all aspects of the ultimate solution,
“we support and endorse their efforts to finally put their
differences aside and move beyond the political and policy conflicts
of the past,” the GOP House members wrote. “Continued political
conflict and rhetorical attacks accomplish nothing but perpetual
gridlock and bitterness.”

Meanwhile, commercial fishermen in Oregon and California held a
conference call Monday to tell personal stories of economic hardship,
which several said was connected to Cheney's 2002 actions. Commercial
fishing in the two states was cut by more than 90 percent last year -
the largest commercial fishing closure in the history of the country
- resulting in more than $60 million in damage to coastal economies.

“In all my years I've never seen it so tough as it has been these
last couple of years,” said fisherman Larry Collins of San
Francisco. “People don't have the money to do boat maintenance, they
can't keep up on insurance. I've never seen it so bad as it is right
now in the fleet, and in the last six years with these kinds of
immoral environmental decisions made by this administration.”

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