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A Times Editorial

Take a stand

The benefits of restoring the Snake River's natural flow outweigh its costs. Al Gore, once again, has chosen to be ambiguous instead of taking a real stand.

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000


Once again the Clinton-Gore administration has minced when it should have taken bold steps to settle a controversial issue -- in this case breaching dams on the Snake River.

Environmentalists, sports fishermen and Native Americans say four dams on the Lower Snake River need to be breached, returning the river to a more natural flow, to save threatened salmon and trout populations. The plan is opposed by industrial and farming interests, particularly aluminum plants, that use the inexpensive hydro-electric power, irrigation reservoirs and barge transportation made possible by the dams.

After delaying a decision for months, the administration finally decided to postpone plans to breach the dams for at least five years. In the meantime, it will try some experimental methods to save the salmon from the dams' turbines. At great expense, the government collects young salmon headed downstream and carries them around the dams in trucks or barges.

George W. Bush has indicated he is against breaching the dams. Al Gore, ignoring a chance to draw a distinction between himself and his main opponent, has been ambiguous on the subject. Trying to have it both ways, he agrees with the delay but says he favors restoring the salmon populations. Gore's waffling has drawn criticism from his own campaign leader in Oregon, Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Both supporters and opponents of the dams have tried to claim the moral high ground. Breaching the dams would cost the area jobs and higher electric bills and still not save the salmon, say those who favor keeping the dams. Those who want to breach the dams say that while there is a cost to restoring the river's natural flow, more will be gained, both financially and environmentally.

The truth is, there are sensible alternatives to the hydro-electric generators and the barges. But the extinction of salmon on the river, which some experts say could come as early as 2017, could not be so easily reversed. It is time to return the Lower Snake River to a healthy, more natural state.

It is also time for Al Gore to get some backbone. By constantly shifting his stance on important issues such as this, or hiding in ambiguity, he does nothing but fuel doubts about his strength of character.

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