What should Oregon do when feds enable exemptions for the Corps?Considering the current administration's appalling environmental record, it's no wonder Oregon agencies and others are riled up over the latest slippery ploy to water down the federal Clean Water Act as it applies to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Environmental Protection Agency is working its way toward rules that would allow the Corps to seek exemptions from current standards regulating water temperatures behind dams.
High water temperatures are an inherent risk where dams slow water velocity and expose a large, slow-moving surface to solar radiation. It is a form of pollution particularly deadly to many kinds of fish, including salmon, because it affects the amount of available oxygen in the water, along with other detrimental impacts.
EPA is defending its proposed rules, drafted in response to a lawsuit, saying they merely clarify existing standards for 50 large dams in Oregon. Columbia River dams are covered by other rules, but 13 dams in the Willamette Basin, which connects with the Columbia, are part of the proposal. By releasing the warm water behind these dams during irrigation season, an overall temperature increase in the entire downstream system can result.
An EPA coordinator in Portland maintains there will be a "pretty rigorous process" in order to obtain permission to break temperature rules at the expense of salmon, a tepid defense if ever there was one.
This is the administration that ran roughshod over endangered species rules to release irrigation water in the Klamath Basin at the expense of fish, fishermen and associated interests, directly at the behest of White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove. The promise of a "pretty rigorous process" from this EPA leadership is about as reassuring as the promise of a softer pillow beneath the guillotine would have been to Marie Antoinette.
Speaking to the Eugene Register-Guard, an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality official said EPA and the corps should instead adopt state standards that don't contain the same handy opt-out provisions for the corps.
"We think this ought to be a state process rather than a national process, and that Oregonians should determine what water quality standards should be, rather than the EPA," said the manager of the DEQ's water quality standards program.
It will be interesting to see if the administration, in its swaggering hyprocracy, buys this states' rights argument to any greater extent than it defends other laws and constitutional provisions with which it disagrees.