Interior Dept. to Probe Water Policy
PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - The inspector general at the Interior Department will
look into possible political interference by the White House in developing
water policy in the Klamath River Basin in the Northwest.
The inquiry follows the disclosure that President Bush (news - web
sites)'s top political adviser, Karl Rove, briefed dozens of political
appointees at the Interior Department more than a year and a half
ago about diverting water from the Klamath River in Oregon to irrigate
Sen. John Kerry (news, bio, voting record) of Massachusetts, a Democratic
presidential candidate, disclosed the inspector general's plans on
Last September, 33,000 chinook salmon died in the Klamath River in
northern California. The California Department of Fish and Game laid
much of the blame on low flows controlled by the federal government
for creating conditions that allowed a fatal gill rot disease to spread
through the fish.
A report on the fish kill by the Interior Department's U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service has not been released.
Kerry had asked for the IG investigation after a story about Rove's
meeting with the political appointees appeared in The Wall Street
Rove's briefing of Interior's political appointees in January 2002
took place following a trip by Bush and Rove to Oregon, where they
focused on the Klamath water issue. Rove made a second trip to Oregon
before the department decided to increase the water flow to farms.
Seeking to help their farm constituencies, Republican leaders in the
Northwest wanted to divert water to farmers.
In an Aug. 28 letter to Kerry, the inspector general's office said
that it will look into whether decision-making on water policy in
the Klamath River Basin deviated from normal practices, with special
attention to any evidence of political interference or suppression
If any evidence of political interference is found, "we have
no authority over members of the White House staff and therefore would
immediately notify the Department of Justice (news - web sites), Office
of Public Integrity," said the letter from Interior IG Earl Devaney.
Decisions made by the Interior Department were based on the best available
science from the National Academy of Sciences (news - web sites),
said Interior spokesman Mark Pfeifle. He said Interior is focused
on providing water for people who live and work in the Klamath Basin,
including farmers, fishermen and tribes, while also restoring the
Kerry called the probe a positive step, saying he is concerned that
political pressure from the White House may have intimidated staff
and influenced policy.
Kerry says the Bush administration acted as if agencies like the Interior
Department are "a division of the Republican National Committee
(news - web sites)."
Pfeifle said candidates on the campaign trail "seem only focused
on partisan sniping."
White House spokeswoman Ashley Snee has said it is "entirely
appropriate" for members of the president's staff to occasionally
provide updates on the president's accomplishments and agenda.
Snee has said the president established a Cabinet-level working group
on Klamath that is committed to sustainable agriculture and jobs,
improved water quality and stronger fish populations.
Steve Pedery of the conservation group WaterWatch said that the Bush
administration's approach is to pick one interest politically favorable
to its goals and say, "You get the water." Pedery said the
solution should be to try to bring demand back into balance with supply
"so everybody can get a fair share."
The Interior Department's Pfeifle, who attended Rove's January 2002
meeting at a weekend retreat in West Virginia, has said the Klamath
water diversion issue took up "probably 30 seconds to a minute"
of a 25-minute presentation to department political appointees.
Pfeifle has said other matters touched on in Rove's presentation
included having a Hispanic media coordinator, reaching out to suburbanites
on environmental issues and outreach to segments of organized labor
that support oil and gas drilling in the Alaskan wilderness.