An agriculture group says the cost of saving salmon in the Northwest’s largest river system is unsustainable. Now, the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association is turning to the Trump administration to try and sidestep endangered species laws.
They want a meeting of the so-called “God Squad.” It has nothing to do with religion; the Cabinet-level committee has a unique power: they can grant exemptions to the Endangered Species Act. In other words, their decisions can lead to the survival or extinction of a creature.
The squad has only met three times – the last being a quarter century ago during a controversy over spotted owl habitat in Oregon.
The irrigators association is frustrated with court rulings it says puts fish before people. They think the squad could end years of legal challenges over dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers and provide stability for fellow irrigators, power generators and other businesses that rely on the water.
Environmentalists say the request is a publicity stunt and that it could hurt fishing companies and others relying on healthy runs of federally-protected salmon and steelhead.
The pro-agriculture group thinks they have a shot after a series of environmental decisions from the Trump Administration coming down on the side of industry.
If the God Squad were to be assembled, it would be chaired by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and include officials from other natural resource agencies as well as representatives from Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana.
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