WASHINGTON - Pacific Northwest lawmakers are joining forces behind a bill that could make it easier for Washington state, Oregon, California and Alaska to receive up to $200 million a year for salmon recovery for years to come.
The bill by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., would divide the money equally among the four states - and give some of the money to tribes - to cool streams, reduce runoff and take other steps to make waterways more habitable for salmon.
The West Coast salmon population is just 10 percent of what it was in the 1800s, and 26 runs of Pacific salmon, steelhead and trout are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
``We have decades of destructive activities that have brought us to this point,'' Thompson said.
The governors of the four states in 1998 requested $200 million in federal funds each year for six years to aid salmon recovery.
President Clinton, while not giving the governors all they requested, asked Congress for $100 million for the four states both last year and this year.
But Congress has been hard to persuade.
The House initially approved none of Clinton's request last year.
After the Senate approved $110 million, the House compromised at $58 million last year. That translated into $18 million for Washington, $14 million for Alaska and $9 million each for Oregon and California.
Congress has not yet acted on Clinton's $100 million request this year.
If Thompson's bill passes, congressional appropriators still would need to decide separately whether to hand over the salmon money to the states.
But Thompson believes his bill, by writing the program into federal law for as long as six years, will help the states make their case, said Chris Chauncey, Thompson's spokesman.
The bill also may give Idaho a chance at some of the money.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who chaired a House Resources Committee panel hearing on Thompson's bill on Thursday, said Idaho has salmon needs, too.
``Why the four states and not Idaho?'' he asked at the fisheries conservation, wildlife and oceans subcommittee meeting.
``There certainly are possibilities to widen the program,'' Thompson replied. ``I'm not interested in excluding your state.''
Simpson is weighing the possibility of trying to amend Thompson's bill to include Idaho.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said that would be fine - as long as the overall pot of money also increases to make room for Idaho.