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Buffett rebuffs Klamath Dam advocates

Buffett wants to leave it up to the government
May 3, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
American Indian tribes and salmon fisherman were rebuffed a second time Saturday in their bid to win support from billionaire Warren Buffett for a proposal to remove four hydroelectric dams from the Klamath River. Buffett again told the group that his company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., won't decide the fate of the dams owned by its PacifiCorp utility.

He said Berkshire will defer to regulators in California and Oregon, where the Klamath runs, and to federal officials. Buffett also said he promised regulators when Berkshire bought PacifiCorp in 2006 that he wouldn't interfere with the utility's operating decisions.

The dam opponents, making their second trip to Berkshire's annual meeting, have promised to keep pressure on Buffett and his Omaha-based company.

"We feel like we've been listened to everywhere except PacifiCorp," said Leaf Hillman, a member of the Karuk Tribe.

In January, negotiators for farmers, tribes, fishermen conservation groups and government agencies battling over scarce water and struggling salmon runs said they agreed to a proposal to remove the four dams. However, that agreement faces significant hurdles, including agreement by PacifiCorp.

The tribes view the fight to remove the dams as a fight for their own survival as well as the survival of salmon.

The PacifiCorp dams are up for relicensing. That process started in 2000 and is likely to continue for five or six more years.

Buffett refused to meet with the group last year. This year, he turned to David Sokol, who oversees all of Berkshire's utility companies, to provide responses to questions about the future of the Klamath dams during Berkshire's annual meeting.

"There are a whole series of issues to deal with as part of the federal regulatory process," Sokol said.

Chief among the issues is sorting out what 28 different interest groups want to happen. Sokol said different groups favor at least four separate outcomes.

Buffett said it's up to government to balance all those competing interests.

PacifiCorp, one of more than 60 Berkshire subsidiaries, serves 1.7 million customers in six Western states.

 

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