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NW Fishletter #371, July 3, 2017

[4] NW House Members Urge Trump to Initiate CRT Negotiations; U.S. Negotiator Leaving

A bipartisan group of Northwest House members wrote to President Donald Trump June 21 urging him to "take any and all necessary actions" to initiate negotiations with Canada over the future of the Columbia River Treaty, including sending a notice of termination so as "to incentivize Canada to come to the table."

"The imminent commencement of negotiations is critical to U.S. interests and we urge your Administration to promptly engage with Canada on this matter," said the letter signed by Republican Reps. Dan Newhouse, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dave Reichert of Washington, and Reps. Kurt Schrader (D), Peter DeFazio (D) and Greg Walden (R) of Oregon.

Shrader led the effort with Newhouse, and released a statement saying that "we continue to pay exorbitant sums for Canadian flood control improvements constructed years ago. Renegotiation of this treaty is long overdue. It's time for our Canadian friends to come to the table in a meaningful way so we can strike a fair deal that reflects where we are in the 21st century."

The letter comes a week after the chief U.S. negotiator for the treaty, Brian Doherty, told a treaty modeling group that his two-year term on the assignment will end in July. The office of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said it had no information on Doherty's replacement.

Doherty has been the main State Department point person on the treaty since his appointment in 2015, and has held extensive meetings with treaty stakeholders in the Northwest, as well as meeting with officials in Canada.

Doherty did not return a call seeking comment.

It is unclear if his technical aide, Deputy Lead Negotiator Brian Nafziger, will remain or stay.

The U.S. Entity--comprised of BPA and the regional U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office--filed its regional recommendation for the future of the treaty in December 2013. Former Secretary of State John Kerry informed the Canadians last fall that the U.S. had completed its review of the treaty and was ready to negotiate.

The process has been complicated by elections in the U.S., Canada and British Columbia, but Northwest House members who sent the letter said the U.S. offer to negotiate "remains valid with the change in administrations."

"While Canada has been slow to act on their negotiating authority," the congressional letter continues, the U.S. could invoke the Treaty's "Notice of Termination" clause as a means to prod them.

The clause sets up a firm 10-year period to reach a modernized and rebalanced structure, the letter notes. "With the potential for negotiations to drag out indefinitely," the notice "could provide the necessary incentive for Canada to enter into formal discussion, which will hopefully lead to a mutual agreement with Canada being reached much sooner."

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote a letter in March to Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland that focused on terrorism, but also mentioned the treaty. NW Fishletter asked for a copy of the letter, but the State Department replied that it would "decline to provide any details related to our diplomatic conversations."

According to one source who saw the letter, Tillerson urged Canada to begin negotiations with the U.S. on the flood-control changes that would begin in 2024 under the treaty, noting those would require multiyear planning and capital investment.

Tillerson said he hoped the two countries would be able to come to an agreement, the source said. However, Tillerson, unlike Kerry before him, didn't say anything about ecosystem concerns.-Ben Tansey

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Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: Laura Berg
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