Portland, OR — Northwest fisheries and objective science scored a victory in court late on Friday. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ordered the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) to continue its funding and support of the Fish Passage Center on the very day that the Center was slated to cease operation. While the stay order does not rule on the merits of the case, the court’s order maintains the status quo until the case is resolved.
The Fish Passage Center’s experts provide analysis of 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 Center plays a critical role in monitoring whether native fish stocks are able to traverse a series of dams to reach their spawning grounds.
“Citizens need to fight back against the siege on science,” said Liz Hamilton, Executive Director of Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association (NSIA), one of the petitioners in the case. “This is a victory for all Americans – we need robust fish runs, clean air and clean water for the health of our citizenry. We don’t get that when special interests pressure government to censor science.”
BPA claimed that language inserted into a Congressional Committee report by Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) required that the Fish Passage Center receive no further funding and that functions should be transferred to a private entity. The report language was prompted because the Center’s figures were relied upon by a federal district court judge in ordering greater water releases from dams this past summer to aid salmon migration.
The legal petition and request for a stay of the de-funding, filed by Northwest Environmental Defense Center (NEDC), Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and NSIA, maintains that BPA’s attempt to replace the Fish Passage Center is illegal, in violation of the provisions of the Northwest Power Act. Moreover, the groups argue that a Committee report does not carry the force of law.
“The importance of the Center’s continued fish expertise outweighed the BPA’s arguments that it is above the law,” said Stephanie Parent of the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center (PEAC) who filed the stay request.
“Our Constitution and democratic system do not condone politics interfering with science,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is representing Fish Passage Center staff in a separate, but related, constitutional challenge to the Center’s proposed closure. “While we are relieved the court has restored the balance for the time being, this is going to be a long fight.”
“It is unfortunate BPA forces us into court to resolve simple matters,” said Mark Riskedahl of NEDC. “I’m certain we could have worked this out with an open and public discourse, but BPA didn’t give us that option.”