Washington, DC — An attempt by U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) to eliminate the Fish Passage Center violates constitutional free speech and due process rights of the Center’s scientists, according to a federal lawsuit filed today. This suit seeks an emergency injunction to stop the scheduled March 17, 2006 closure of the Center, which monitors fish runs and river operations to protect and enhance salmon, steelhead, bull trout and other fish moving through the Columbia and lower Snake rivers.
The complaint by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Portland law firm McKanna, Bishop, Joffe & Sullivan LLP (MBJS) before the U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon contends that Craig and Bonneville Power Administrator Stephen Wright unlawfully retaliated against Center experts because their data was relied upon by a federal district court judge in ordering greater water releases from dams this past summer to aid salmon migration. Angered by the Center’s data showing a reduced salmon migration during the previous year, Craig added language to a committee report recommending that the Fish Passage Center should no longer receive funding from the Bonneville Power Administration and the functions should be transferred to a private entity. Spurred by Craig, BPA has blocked the renewal of the Center’s contract for the current year.
“What Senator Craig did was tantamount to tampering with a witness who testified against him,” stated PEER General Counsel Richard Condit, who filed the action with MBJS partner Dana Sullivan. “This lawsuit is about whether scientists can be summarily separated from employment if their findings happen to undermine the agenda of federal politicians,” added Sullivan.
For the past 24 years, the Fish Passage Center has served as the authoritative scorekeeper in counting whether native fish stocks are able to traverse a series of dams to reach their spawning grounds. Many of the stakeholders on the rivers systems have expressed concern that cancellation of the Center’s contract will disrupt data collection and threaten the quality and consistency of the information on which river management decisions are based.
PEER is representing Center Director Michele DeHart and five other specialists in asserting their constitutional rights to speak and publish their findings without fear of reprisal. The suit also argues that even though the Center and its staff received top evaluations and their contract was recommended for renewal, BPA intervened in violation of due process by not affording the affected scientists a chance to rebut Sen. Craig’s charge that their mathematical compilations data constituted “advocacy science.”
In a supporting affidavit filed with the suit, Rod Sando, the former Executive Director of Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority, which oversees the Fish Passage Center, stated:
“This is the first time a decision has been made to eliminate funding of a mitigation project that was performing its duties as assigned simply because the analysis results were inconvenient for some of the Region’s policy makers… This ‘flat earth’ approach to science does not bode well for the management of fish resources in the Columbia. Many of these fish stocks are in serious trouble and the general welfare of all citizens will not be served by a community of fisheries scientists and managers who cannot carry out their responsibilities without fear of retaliation.”
In addition to this action, this past January PEER joined the Northwest Environmental Defense Center and the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association in asking the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to declare attempts by the BPA to replace the Fish Passage Center in violation of the provisions of the Northwest Power Act. That earlier action is still pending before the appellate court.