Last Wednesday’s New York Times featured a full-page ad urging Vice Pres. Al Gore to take a stronger position on dam removal on the lower Snake River in Washington state, a step that enviros believe would improve the survival chances of several salmon species that call the river home.

What happens to a decision deferred? Does
it dry up, like a salmon in the sun?

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The ad — sponsored by a number of enviro groups, including American Rivers, Idaho Rivers United, and Save Our Wild Salmon — essentially nationalizes what has up to now been a largely regional issue limited to the Pacific Northwest.

In response to the ad, Gore staffers reiterated what they have said in the past, that the vice president is keeping his eye on the issue but will not be announcing a policy position any time soon.

While the veep’s campaign is publicly staying cool, Save Our Wild Salmon Dir. Pat Ford suggests it is privately feeling the heat. “Our main purpose was to call this issue to the attention of the national political establishment,” Ford says, “that the administration and the vice president have a big decision to make soon. In that goal, all indications are that we are succeeding. … We haven’t had any direct contact with the vice president’s campaign, but we gather that they are not all that happy.”

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The ad serves as yet another example of the enviro community’s willingness, even eagerness, to put the full-court press on Gore, looking to extract promises in return for campaign support. It doesn’t hurt that the veep has but one primary opponent who is rising in the polls, has a fat bank account, and sports a better League of Conservation Voters’ record than Gore (more on that below).

Frankly, my dear, I don’t like this dam.
(The Lower Monumental, one of the four dams in question.)

Last week’s full-pager was the first of four such ads scheduled to roll out over the next several weeks, all of which will address the Snake River dam issue. The group spent about $130,000 to secure space in the Times, though they can’t be sure which days the ads will run (in exchange for charging a cheaper rate, the Times has the option to run the ads anytime within a given window, whenever they have a page open).

One notable logo at the bottom of the first ad was that of Patagonia. The producer of choice jackets, organic chinos, and other outdoorsy goodies paid for all of the creative work that went into the ads, leaving the enviros with the task of simply raising the money to buy space, which they were able to do with a few sizeable donations over the last couple of months.

Bill Arthur, director of the Sierra Club’s Northwest/Alaska region, suggests that Gore will have to take a stand on the issue soon if he plans to keep making campaign swings through Washington state, site of an important Feb. 29 primary.

“It’s going to be difficult for him to keep coming to the Northwest without having an answer to this issue,” Arthur says. “We would appreciate having an answer instead of having to litigate it in courts for the next 10 years.”

Dear John

Washington woke to grim news Monday, learning that Sen. John Chafee of Rhode Island, a patrician Republican moderate and tireless advocate for various environmental causes, had died at 77.

Senator Chafee.

Chafee embodied a belief almost completely banished from the marble halls of Capitol Hill these days, that politics need not be a zero sum game where one party wins and the other loses. He sought compromise, embraced consensus, and believed that policy achievements trump political gains.

Chafee, who announced several months ago his intention to retire from politics next year, has played important roles on issues ranging from the 1990 Clean Air Act to hazardous waste laws to coastal water protection.

Enviros celebrated Chafee earlier this month at the League of Conservation Voters annual award dinner in Washington, where the senator received a lifetime achievement citation. League Pres. Deb Callahan recalls the evening this way:

“When he walked up to the podium, people jumped to their feet, hooped and hollered and there was no stopping them. In all of the environmental banquets I’ve ever been to, I’ve never seen such an outpouring of emotion as I saw for Sen. Chafee. It was an extraordinary moment. None of us knew it would be our last chance to thank him.”

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Almond (R) will choose someone to fill Chafee’s seat for the duration of the current term. The logical candidate would be Chafee’s son, Lincoln, who announced his candidacy for his father’s seat earlier this year.

Chafee’s would-be successor as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is Sen. Bob Smith (N.H.), a conservative firebrand who recently jilted the GOP and became an independent. but chances are good Republicans will deny Smith the chair, which means that Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) would take the helm.

The conservative Oklahoman received a zero rating from the LCV last year (as did Smith) and has hammered the Clinton administration’s clean air policies and ridiculed concerns about global warming as reliant upon “selective science” and “political calculations.”

One enviro insider on Monday lamented Inhofe’s possible ascension and described working with him as “very challenging.”

Who’s Your Daddy?

Dutifully reading the New York Times account of Gore’s promise last week to ban oil drilling in certain coastal waters, we stumbled upon this puzzling paragraph about the veep’s League of Conservation Voters rating:

“Mr. Gore had a rating of 64 percent, which reflected several absences from votes during his career, the large number of toxic Superfund sites in Tennessee that have not been cleaned up, as well as Mr. Gore’s father’s position on the boards of coal companies that were involved in strip-mining.”

Huh? Could it be that LCV takes into account the exploits of legislator’s parents in calculating their ratings? Hardly.

“They didn’t get that from us,” says LCV’s Callahan, who thinks perhaps the Times meant to indicate that Gore-the-younger voted in favor of strip-mining companies because of board positions held by his father, Al Gore Sr., another former Tennessee senator. Could be.

As for Gore’s second-place position to Dollar Bill Bradley (84-64) on the LCV scoreboard, Callahan says factoring out the absences would not, as some have claimed, bring the vice president even, but would only bump him up a couple of points.

Junk Man Update

In our last column, we told you all about Steven Milloy, a.k.a. the “Junk Man,” whose rabid web postings following the untimely death of Dr. David Platt Rall drew the ire of many in the environmental community.

A group of enviros sent a letter to Edward Crane, president of the Cato Institute, where Milloy is an adjunct scholar, demanding that the think tank sever its ties with the Junk Man.

No dice. An aide to Crane said this on the voicemail of one enviro advocate who sought to
meet with Crane to discuss the Junk Man’s Internet missives.

“Mr. Crane wanted me to tell you that he did speak with Mr. Milloy and [Milloy] did remove the material from his website and [Crane] would like to consider the incident over now.”