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Interior Department official Sue Ellen Woodbridge is contacted, to her surprise and initial disbelief, by Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney is concerned with a situation developing in Oregon, a battleground electoral state that the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign had lost by less than half a percentage point in November 2000. Drought-stricken ranchers and farmers—largely Republican in makeup—are clamoring for the irrigation water they need to keep their croplands and pastures green. (Becker and Gellman 6/27/2007) The farmers and ranchers of the area are key to the re-election of Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR). (Bacher 7/16/2007) But federal biologists say that the Endangered Species Act gives the government no choice: if the water is released, two imperiled species of fish will be gravely impacted. Both science and the law are on the side of the fish, but Cheney steps in, apparently more out of political concerns for Oregon than for the farmers and ranchers. According to Cheney’s aides, he first looks for a way around the law. According to an Oregon congressman who lobbies for the farmers, when Cheney finds no way to circumvent the law, he instead attacks the science protecting the fish (see April 2002). The government eventually declares, in spite of all scientific evidence, that the water release and subsequent draining of the Klamath River basin will not harm the fish. Instead, the water release causes the largest fish kill in modern Western history (see September 2002). Cheney’s role in the fish kill will not be revealed until 2007. (Becker and Gellman 6/27/2007) After the Washington Post reveals Cheney’s role in the fish kill, the House will open hearings on Cheney’s activities (see June 27-28, 2007).
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