Smith backs Cheney, farmers in fish-kill debate
Sen. Gordon Smith argues there is no evidence a massive fish kill on the Klamath River in 2002 was caused by water diversions to farmers.Even the headline is misleading. Smith is not backing Cheney he is defending himself. While Cheney and Rove pulled the strings in an attempt to get Gordon Smith reelected Smith himself was an active participant. As Michelle Neumann reported over at Blue Oregon science was ignored for purely political reasons, possibly a violation of the Hatch Act.
Generating fresh controversy over a key Oregon environmental issue, the Republican senator also defends the role Vice President Dick Cheney played in intervening with federal officials to help farmers in the Klamath Basin. And he casts doubt on claims that the salmon die-off caused subsequent commercial fishing restrictions off the coast.
The Klamath issue is flaring anew because the House Natural Resources Committee is investigating whether Cheney exerted improper political influence to override scientifically based management of the water resources.
Environmentalists, who have long been at odds with Smith, said the senator's stance contradicts a study by the California Department of Fish and Game, which found that the water diversions played a key role in the deaths of some 77,000 salmon.
The debate over the Klamath fish kill comes as Smith is gearing up for what could be a tough re-election race next year. His staunch defense of the farmers gives him a chance to cement ties with rural voters who are a key part of his political base. But if he's seen as insensitive to environmental issues, it also could undermine his attempts to seek the political middle in Oregon.
Smith said he has no regrets about his role in pushing the administration to aid the farmers, who had their water cut off for a year to protect both the Klamath River salmon as well as suckerfish in Klamath Lake.
"Whenever the government says to any group of Americans, we are cutting you off 100 percent, not one drop (of water), that gets my blood boiling," said Smith in an interview with The Oregonian. "I make no apology for going to bat and doing what I could with the influence of my office to defend farmers."
The senator first raised the issue Tuesday in an interview with the Eugene Register-Guard in which he sought to distance the fish deaths from the water diversions to farmers.
"I don't know that there's a connection between water for suckerfish that went to farmers, and salmon 18 months later that died of a gill disease," Smith told the Register-Guard's editorial board.
Smith subsequently acknowledged in an interview with The Oregonian that the fish kill came about six months after water was first diverted to farms, but he argued that the die-off could have occurred even without the diversions.
Yes, The Oregonian continues to carry Gordon Smith's water.