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A case for closure

idaho RANDY
The Idaho

Since 1981, the four states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana have – under terms of a federal law signed into effect early that year – created and formed a joint agency aimed at planning for electric power production and resource (especially fish) production, and meshing the two goals together. It is now, after a name change a while back, called the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, and it is based at Portland.

It’s a fair-sized agency, starting with a council that has two members from each of the four states, and including staff at Portland and elsewhere. For decades, it has rolled along, often not much noticed by the public or many other people aside from the Bonneville Power Administration, with which it is required to work. It delivers occasional reports and recommendations.

Here’s a little secret few people probably have ever realized: All it would take to eliminate this agency is for three of the four state governors to agree to end it. That’s it: The Council would then vanish.

That’s one point about the council that its very first member, Idahoan Chris Carlson, makes in his new book Medimont Reflections: 40 Years of Issues and Idahoans. (Disclosure: I’m the publisher of that book, which is being released right about now, through Ridenbaugh Press.) You can find this highly obscure dissolution provision in the Northwest Power Planning Act at section 839b(b)(5)(A). If the governors invoked it the Council would be gone, period.

Here’s another point Carlson makes: The governors should use that authority and eliminate the council.

The idea of eliminating a government agency most often comes up as parcel of an ideological harangue. It ought to be more specific than that. The usefulness of specific programs, efforts and lines of spending is something that ought to come up for regular review, in ways they usually don’t now.

In a chapter called “The Toothless Tiger,” former member Carlson has this to say about the Council: ‘Candidly, it has been a gargantuan waste and its shortcomings in not producing a viable plan to restore wild salmon and steelhead fishery runs decimated by the four lower Snake River dams is prime reason to put the Council out of its misery. They shoot horses with broken legs, don’t they? The council has broken legs, as well as arms, feet, hands, and head. It too should, in an act of compassion, be eliminated. The governors should act, and act now.”

Apart from some amusing description of his own experience and brief membership on it (there’s some clear-eyed description of the sausage-making involved), Carlson points out that it has done little either to foster more electric power development – a less troubling issue now than it was then – and little to help the salmon runs whose preservation was a key reason for the council’s invention. Some of its original advocates suggested it might be the basic policy-maker for federal power in the region, but Carlson writes that it was co-opted by the BPA and merely offers easily bypassed advisory opinions.

He suggested, as on option, instead that a board of directors for BPA ought to be set up, one with actual ability to impose direction on that agency. It might work. At least as well.

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