Anytime we westerners turn on a light switch, we support a federal agency called the Bonneville Power Administration. Sadly, we also funnel our hard-earned money into a wildlife-recovery regime that appears to be lacking in accountability.

On Aug. 27, the Oregonian - in a story buried on page E8 - revealed that fish recovery efforts in the Columbia Basin have exceeded $3.3 billion in the past two decades. To add insult to injury, none of this money has been traced to an identifiable benefit for fish or people.

Of course, here in the John Day Basin, we know better. The John Day Basin has boasted some of the most impressive and progressive advances in cooperative conservation work. We do not want to begrudge assistance from federal and state agencies when the money reaches the ground. Nor do we want to snub these on-the-ground efforts. However, we do want to urge a harder look at the BPA's behemoth fish and wildlife program and its octopus-like reach in every direction.

The Oregonian article states, "The report, from the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, was the government's first comprehensive assessment of salmon recovery costs and results. The GAO concluded what many critics in the region have suspected for years: Despite massive spending, federal agencies cannot show that their efforts have had an impact on numbers of adult fish that return to the basin to spawn."

The article by Oregonian reporter Jim Barnett added this salient fact: The bulk of the funding - $1.5 billion - was spent in the past five years.

First question: Why did Congress take so long to identify this problem?

Second question: How can we put a halt to such gross extravagance with our tax and ratepayer dollars, and trim the massive fat at the federal level while we preserve the local programs that work in our basins?

Fortunately, Americans have an opportunity to change BPA's direction. The agency is asking for input about its operations. Citizens can participate in two public-comment processes - one to "engage the region in a discussion of how BPA will market power and distribute the benefits of the Federal Columbia River Power System in the Pacific Northwest after 2006," the other, more pointedly, to "discuss options for avoiding or reducing impending rate increases."

When agency managers refer to impending "rate increases," they allude to the likeliest scenario for BPA to stave off the impacts of low wholesale power prices in the wake of the California deregulation meltdown.

We beg to differ with the "remedy" of higher rates. We would urge BPA to first cut its costs, starting with its wildlife-recovery bureaucracy, before looking at raising power rates for utilities to pass on to the public.

Predictably, environmental groups (whose members seem to have ample time to attend public meetings) showed up in force and urged BPA to spend more money on fish programs. According to the minutes of an Aug. 15 financial-choices scoping meeting in Portland, Tom Wolf of Trout Unlimited "urged that any spending cuts not affect salmon recovery or conservation/renewables." Sierra Club member Carl Schnoor stated: "I don't think it's BPA's job to have rates that every poor person can afford."

Excuse us. In other words, don't worry about those pesky poor people. It's more important to spend billions of dollars (many of those dollars picked from the pockets of poor people) to employ bureaucrats and fund office space and desk jobs in the name of fish recovery.

Here is our solution: By mail, telephone, e-mail and fax - and, if possible, by speaking out at upcoming public meetings - the public should tell agency managers to stop squandering our money on rules, red tape and busywork for bureaucrats.

"Reduce costs and raise rates less" is the best alternative under review by BPA for its fiscal stabilization.

The public should support this option and demand fiscal responsibility by:

Writing to David Basaraba/PL-6, Bonneville Power Administration, P.O. Box 3621, Portland, OR 97208-3621; e-mailing comments to financialchoices@bpa.gov; faxing comments to (503) 230-5884; or calling (503) 230-5131. Comments are due Monday, Sept. 30.

Commenting in person at scoping meetings concerning potential changes to BPA's power supply role after 2006. Citizens can attend the following forums: 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, Owyhee Plaza, 1109 Main St., Boise, ID; 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 30, BPA Headquarters, 905 N.E. 11th Ave., Portland, OR. To learn more, see the Web Site www.bpa.gov.

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