With time running out to pass a reauthorization bill to keep the Central Utah Project on schedule, Utah Republican members of Congress met behind closed doors Thursday to hear Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, argue for his version of the measure.
Spending on the Bonneville Unit of CUP is heading for the ceiling on the project. And if a reauthorization is not passed in this session of Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation will not be able to request more than half the money needed next year to keep CUP going, according to aides to Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah.Nielson was unhappy with versions of a CUP bill presented in the House two months ago by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, and in the Senate by Garn. He asked Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., to consider his bill when Miller's Water and Power Subcommittee takes up CUP, now scheduled for next week.
His bill would have the United States continue to fund the project in the traditional way, rather than have the Central Utah Water Conservancy District issue bonds for part of the costs. It would preserve the Upalco project and other features Garn and Owens have been willing to postpone or eliminate, but precise details were still being worked out.
Meanwhile aides to Garn and Owens continued to polish their own versions of the bill. Another session, including all five members of Utah's congressional delegation, is likely next week before Miller's subcommittee meets.
They hope to see Miller report a bill to the full House Interior Committee before Congress takes a recess July 15th for the Democrat's national convention. Congress is to return July 25th for three weeks before taking a recess Aug. 12 for the Republicans' convention. Members are not set to return then until September 6.
The Utahns hope the full House Interior Committee can act on CUP and get it to the House floor between the conventions, then get Senate committee action and passage in September. Congress is likely to adjourn for the year early in October to allow members to campaign, thus putting heavy pressure on the leadership to pass the most necessary bills.
Former Utah Gov. Scott Matheson, representing the American Public Power Association, submitted testimony Friday to the Senate Water and Power Subcommittee supporting an increase in the spending ceiling for CUP. Matheson, however, opposed funding work to mitigate the impact of the project on fish and wildlife with a surcharge on electricity sales.
He said such a charge would unfairly tax public power customers in the six-state Colorado River Storage Project region to finance wildlife projects in Utah.
Matheson also opposed Owens' proposal to set up a permanent commission with the power to spend money independently on environmental projects.
He criticized provisions in both Owens' and Garn's bills to finance irrigation and drainage portions of CUP with bonds to be paid off by power revenues, saying it would place enormous pressures on CRSP power rates and set a precedent to revise current reclamation law throughout the West in an attempt to solve a localized problem.
Matheson said such a provision would upset the complex repayment policies that have been devised to ensure that each of the Upper Basin states is allotted its share of investment to carry out the Colorado River Compact.