Panel to probe Cheney, fish kill
The House Natural Resources Committee announced Thursday that it will hold hearings on Vice President Dick Cheney's involvement in Klamath...
WASHINGTON — The House Natural Resources Committee announced Thursday that it will hold hearings on Vice President Dick Cheney's involvement in Klamath River water management that many think led to the die-off of more than 70,000 salmon four years ago.
"It certainly appears that this administration will stop at nothing to achieve political gain from natural-resources disasters," said Rep. Nick J. Rahall, the West Virginia Democrat who heads the panel.
Three dozen House Democrats from Oregon and California asked for the hearing in a letter to Rahall after The Washington Post reported on details of Cheney's intervention.
According to the newspaper, Cheney personally contacted Sue Ellen Wooldridge — a Northern Californian who then was Interior Secretary Gale Norton's top aide for the Klamath — about his concerns over a decision by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to stop deliveries of irrigation water. At that time, the region was emerging from a severe drought in 2001, and the BLM was enforcing a finding by scientists that water diversions to farmers would harm endangered salmon and suckerfish.
The newspaper reported that Cheney then urged the Interior Department to seek a report from the National Academy of Sciences on the biological justification for the decision, and called the academy to clear the way. When the academy found the decision was not justified, the water deliveries to farmers were restored.
Later that fall, thousands of dead chinook salmon littered the lower reaches of the river near its confluence with the Trinity River. The die-off was traced to an explosion of pathogens that attacked the fish. California and Oregon attributed the disaster to federal water policies.
At the time, it was reported that White House political adviser Karl Rove had been involved, but the Interior Department's inspector general later found otherwise.
Still, the restoration of the water deliveries was regarded as politically inspired. After The Post's report Wednesday on Cheney's involvement, 36 House Democrats from Oregon and California wrote a letter to Rahall calling for the hearings.
Asked about the decision to hold hearings, the vice president's office dismissed it as political.
"It is sad that the Democrats in Congress want to investigate rather than legislate," said Cheney spokeswoman Megan McGinn.
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