Jun 26 2013

Sunsetting the council

Published by at 4:01 pm under Carlson

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Sent a letter off to Governor C/L. “Butch” Otter this week asking him to take the lead among northwest governors and abolish the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. The request is a formal follow up to the case I made about the irrelevancy of the Council in today’s energy environment in my recent book, Medimont Reflections.

Copies were sent to Governor Otter’s other northwest colleagues – Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, and Montana Governor Steve Bullock. Additional copies were sent to Washington’s senior U.S. Senator, Patty Murray, to Steve Crow – the Council’s executive director, and to Idaho’s two members on the Council, Bill Booth, from Hayden Lake, and Jim Yost, from Boise.

Fact is, the Council has been a colossal failure, especially in its stated mission to enhance and protect dwindling wild salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia and Snake River basins. Fact is the Council has overseen the wastage of billions of ratepayer dollars in a futile effort to come up, along with other Federal agencies, a biologically protective dam operations plan (called “Bi-ops”) that will meet the test of Federal District Court approval.

Fact is the Council has spent in excess of $221 million to operate during its 32 years of existence but has virtually nothing to show for the ratepayer’s investment. In late March Bonneville produced a summary sheet of the amount of dollars spent, and the amount of revenue lost, trying to enhance wild fish runs during the first 11 years of this new century.

The total sum was a stunning, staggering $7.35 billion. Incredible. And what do they have to show the ratepayers for this outlay? Virtually nothing. By any standard, they have failed in their mission and should be abolished.

The 1980 Act that established the Council also provided a formula for funding the Council – a percentage of the anticipated annual firm power sales. It roughly was the equivalent of about $2 million a year.

Full disclosure on my part: as the first Idaho appointee to the Council I played a significant role in making sure the first budget had enough to set up offices in Montana and Idaho for those states Council members so as to be able to match the downriver states Council offices which were supported by much larger state energy offices.

Thus, the first budget came in at three times the limit, a number slightly in excess of $6 million. This was enough to cover set up costs and required a waiver from the Bonneville Power Administration’s new chief executive and administrator, Peter Johnson, himself an Idahoan and the former chairman of Idaho-based Trus-Joist Corporation. I never dreamed that subsequent annual budgets would remain in the range of annually expending between $6 and $8 million dollars.

No organization likes to sunset itself or admits it has failed its mission.

The 1980 law, however, presciently saw that the Council could fail and provides a simple mechanism for disbanding it. Three of the region’s four governors merely have to write the Interior Secretary and request it be disbanded and it will be.

Do I expect this happen? No. Even though Governor Otter likes to talk the need to shrink government, when asked earlier this month on KLIX radio in Twin Falls whether he would support disbanding the Council quickly rose to its defense and claimed it played a useful role though he could not cite any specifics.

The fact is the Council positions have become well-paid plum appointments, patronage appointments, if you will that a governor can reward a friend or strong supporter with and not worry about the perception of wasting dollars on an entity more known now for junkets and endless hearings around the region than any substantive achievement. Money after all for the Council primarily comes from downstream ratepayers, not Idaho taxpayers.

Governor Otter should reconsider his position and walk his talk about shrinking needless entities, but he won’t. Just as he won’t respond to my letter. Politicians now days don’t respond to critics, especially in a one-party state where they constantly get away with ignoring those who disagree with them. Another word for such behavior is hypocrisy.

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