Rural versus Urban battle reflected in dispute between Oregon governor and power planning appointee - Feud hits power council
A dispute between Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and one of his two Northwest Power Planning Council appointees this week revealed the deep regional divisions that often hamper the agency's salmon recovery efforts.
Kitzhaber aides asked John Brogoitti on Tuesday to resign after the Pendleton rancher complained publicly that the governor was trying to undermine the power council. Brogoitti refused, vowing to fight for his job and "for the people of rural Oregon."
On Friday, aides said the governor was too busy with wildfires and the state's budget deficit to consider the matter until at least next week.
"We've asked Brogoitti to resign. He says he is not going to," spokesman Tom Towslee said. "That's where it is, and that's where it's going to stay for now."
The power council was created in 1980 by federal law. Its charge is to balance hydropower production at federal dams in the Columbia River Basin with protection of fish and wildlife, including salmon. It has eight members, two each from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.
"This council is dysfunctional," said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, which represents the recreational fishing industry in Oregon and Washington. "There's paralysis. This council is not getting closer to solving the issues of fish versus power, urban versus rural."
Representatives of agricultural inter ests said Friday they strongly support Brogoitti.
"We think Brogoitti is doing an excellent job," said Fred Ziari, chairman of the Eastern Oregon Irrigation Association. "He's hardworking and very accessible."
Council members oversee an annual budget of $8.4 million and a staff of 55, recommending to the Bonneville Power Administration which wildlife recovery programs the BPA should finance with the $186 million it receives each year from electricity ratepayers. The council also recommends salmon recovery strategies to the federal government, and staff members conduct studies of regional electricity supply and demand. The council cannot force the BPA or other federal agencies to follow its recommendations.
Regional differences have often divided the council. For example, the inland states, Idaho and Montana, sometimes have been pitted against the coastal states.
Brogoitti's complaints reveal a division within Oregon over the council's role.
Brogoitti said Friday that he criticized Kitzhaber because he thinks the governor is backing urban interests over rural interests. Eastern Oregon is hurt by salmon recovery measures that restrict the amount of water irrigators and industrial users can withdraw, Brogoitti said.
In January, Kitzhaber asked the council to elect Eric Bloch, his other appointee, as council chairman. The council refused, modifying its bylaws to allow a Washington appointee to serve a third term, then re-electing him.
In May, Kitzhaber wrote the governors of the other three states and proposed that council bylaws be changed to require the chairmanship be rotated among the states. The council last month rejected that change.
Kitzhaber also has pushed for creation of a regional body composed of state, tribal and federal representatives to make decisions on fish and power in the Columbia Basin. But that effort never gained support among the other governors.
Brogoitti said he criticized Kitzhaber publicly -- in a news release faxed from the council's Pendleton office -- after realizing that the governor wants Bloch to become power council chairman in order to push salmon restoration, even if that hurts rural Oregon.
"In my opinion, his hidden agenda is that he wants to leave a total legacy of environmentalism," Brogoitti said. "Agricultural interests were not being represented."
Council Chairman Larry Cassidy, who represents Washington, said Friday the disputes over council leadership and the flap between Brogoitti and Kitzhaber are detracting from its important work. The council is an effective organization, he said, and it is working to develop salmon recovery plans that are not imposed by the federal government.
"It's disappointing to see John Brogoitti and John Kitzhaber have differences," Cassidy said. "We still need all four states to work out a reasonable consensus on how the river should be managed." You can reach Jonathan Brinckman at 503-221-8190 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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