Rep. Wayne Owens withdrew some controversial amendments to his Central Utah Project funding bill Thursday.
But hopes that Utah's five members of Congress will agree on a funding bill continued to dim. Failure to reach a concensus threatens the state's 32-year-old water de-velopment.Meanwhile, the Interior Department said Thursday it finds Owens' bill "so objectionable" that it would recommend a veto "should it pass Congress in its present form." The department said the draft of the bill being pushed by Owens, D-Utah, would add "many costly features" the administration opposes and has other "objectionable" provisions.
Despite Owens' move to withdrew some portions of the bill, Sen. Jake Garn and Rep. Howard Nielson, both Republicans, said they won't give in further and accused Owens of refusing to make enough concessions.
But Owens, a Democrat, still plans to push for his amendments within Utah's delegation.
Owens got the House Water and Power Subcommittee to accept portions of the CUP bill that he said he and Garn agree on.
But Garn emphatically rejected Owens' additional amendments that would make up water shortages out of water allocated to the Strawberry Water Users and increase CUP funding of a post-construction fish and wildlife fund to $50 million.
"These are not minor points," Garn said, in response to Owens' description of them as "slight issues in dispute."
Owens also refused to eliminate funding for a bird refuge in Utah County, which Nielson has angrily opposed.
Owens and Nielson said separately that they hoped the other would compromise rather than kill the CUP.
The chairman of the full House Interior Committee, Rep. Morris K. Udall, D-Ariz., warned all five Utahns that reaching consensus within the state "is crucial to the chances of enacting CUP legislation in this Congress." He added that he would take a CUP bill to his committee only "when agreements are in hand to provide non-traditional private financing of irrigation and drainage facilities and to provide for the financing of fish and wildlife enhancement measures."
Hard bargaining over CUP provisions will have to take place over the next month if the project reauthorization is to go to Udall's committee before the Republican National Convention in August, a deadline Owens said would have to be met if the bill is to have a chance of passage this session.
"Everything is negotiable," Owens said, though he added he feels strongly that a controversial Utah County bird refuge, fish and wildlife mitigation projects and a commission to oversee them should be in the measure.
If the project is not reauthorized with a higher spending ceiling, planned work on the project in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 will be curtailed, all of the Utahns agreed.
The bird refuge "is a killer," Nielson said. "I will not cave in and agree to it."
The refuge, Nielson said, is not wanted by Utah County officials and most county residents - and Owens' pushing for it angers him.
Owens later retorted that Nielson's opposition to the refuge "is a political argument," in the 3rd Congressional District, "and I don't live in his district."
Nielson also opposed a commission "with GS-15 wages and a $15 million slush fund the public would be paying for" to oversee wildlife work in the project.
Garn, too, balked at what he called Owens' insistence on more and more spending on a commission at the expense of public power customers.
Owens said he was surprised at the Republicans' failure to agree with his bill. Although Nielson had complained of some of the same points at a Senate hearing two months ago, Owens said, "I thought he was going along and was just in a somewhat grouchy mood."
Garn and Owens never agreed on final terms of a bill, although their aides have met almost daily for much of the last eight weeks. An agreement seemed near a week ago, but a Garn aide said Owens continued to make demands and to resist making concessions.
"Jake went along with 90 percent of what Wayne wanted, and Wayne gave 10 percent, if that much," one aide said.
"Jake finally felt he had given up too much as it was and wasn't going to give more. He will stick by what he has agreed to, but no more."
Owens said he is sure the bill has no chance without large wildlife mitigation projects, while Nielson and Garn told the Deseret News they don't think it can pass if public power users are asked to pay the wildlife costs and also for the irrigation part of the project.
Nielson did agree this week to sever Ute Indian provisions of his bill into separate legislation and take it to the House on its own. Owens said he commended Nielson for not attempting to put the Ute provisions back into the CUP measure.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Tuesday he feared Nielson's approach would not appeal to committee Democrats, but he said Nielson "is fighting for what his constituents want."
"I hope we can heal this rift," Hatch said.