Utah's only Democratic congressman said that while a Republican colleague was criticizing him for thwarting the Central Utah Project, he was working to get it passed.
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, said Wednesday that he was lobbying top Congressional leaders at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta for passage of his CUP funding bill. Earlier this week, Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, blamed Owens for endangering funding for the CUP.Owens said he has been meeting with Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz., chairman of a House Interior Committee, and former Utah Gov. Scott Matheson, who is representing the Colorado River Electrical Distribution Association to overcome obstacles faced by the bill.
At a meeting of the CUP's board in Utah on Tuesday, Niel-son complained that Owens had tricked other members of the delegation about environmental portions of his CUP funding bill three or four times, and said he doesn't trust him.
Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, also said at the same meeting that compromises with Owens can result in a CUP bill that can succeed in the House and Senate, but said Owens is too concerned about adequate river flows for fish and not concerned enough about water for people.
Owens responded that it is important to have both water for people and "water to allow hunting, fishing and green trees," which would not happen without this bill. Seven streams would be killed outright, and four more would have flows reduced 50 percent."
Owens said the bill - which a House subcommittee passed last week - faces two major obstacles.
One is Nielson's opposition to the compromise bill negotiated by Garn and Owens. "We only really have about 20 working days left in this session. Some will say that if the delegation isn't totally unified on this, that there isn't time to work things out and the bill will die.
"We have an excellent bill, and four of the five members of the delegation support it. We hope Howard Nielson will come on board soon." Owens said he hopes to resolve soon some of Nielson's concerns about a proposed wildlife refuge on Utah Lake.
Owens also complained that negotiations about the bill have been ongoing for nine months, but Nielson took keen interest in them only in recent weeks when deadlines drew near. "Where was Howard when all the time we were negotiating?"
Nielson said Tuesday he was left out of negotiations and never saw Owens' proposal until April 11, one week before a House subcommittee hearing on the legislation was held in Salt Lake City.
The second problem comes in the bill's proposals for public power companies to subsidize some environmental work - which he said they do in the Northwest states. Owens says he feels that is justified because the power companies enjoy inexpensive power from Colorado River Project dams, of which the CUP is part.
He said a 90-minute meeting Thursday with Udall was helpful in overcoming that obstacle, but said he cannot discuss details publicly until he talks to Garn about some new developments.