The Associated Press
OMAHA, Neb. Salmon fishermen and American Indian tribes from California and Oregon did not win billionaire Warren Buffett's support Saturday in their campaign to remove four dams from the Klamath River on the California-Oregon border.
Buffett said his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., will not decide whether the dams its PacifiCorp subsidiary own on the river should be removed; that is a question for state and federal officials.
The groups, who staged protests in the days before Berkshire's annual meeting, wanted Buffett's help. They say the salmon population has suffered along the Klamath, and fishing in the area was nearly shut down last year.
During a question-and-answer period at the meeting, one of the women who asked about the dams said her family lost 95 percent of its income last year because her husband is a salmon fisherman.
"They're barely hanging onto their livelihoods because of the Klamath River crisis," the fisherman's wife said.
Members of the four American Indian tribes are also fighting for dam removal because the tribes live along the Klamath, and much of their culture is tied to the river and fishing. A federal lawsuit was filed this week claiming two of the dams on the river cause massive toxic algae blooms.
Another woman, who is a member of one of the tribes, asked Buffett whether he would meet with tribal leaders to learn more about their issues.
"My people are river people," the woman said. "Our entire culture, religion and subsistence is based on the river."
Buffett did not say directly whether he would meet with tribal leaders, but he told them federal and state regulators were in a better position to decide what should happen because they've heard from 27 groups interested in the dams.
And Buffett said he cannot interfere in PacifiCorp's operating decisions because he swore he wouldn't in an affidavit submitted to Oregon utility regulators.
"I'm in a peculiar position on this," Buffett said.
The dams PacifiCorp owns are up for relicensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. And Berkshire acquired PacifiCorp last year.
"That is entirely a question for FERC and the state commissions," Buffett said.
He said that as a public utility, PacifiCorp will follow whatever public policy regulators set.
The groups campaigning for dam removal point out that the California Energy Commission has said PacifiCorp could save $101 million over the next 30 years by removing the dams and buying replacement power, rather than upgrading the dams and reducing power production to meet modern standards for fish protection.
But the utility has said that removal would eliminate a source of renewable, low-cost power. PacifiCorp serves 1.6 million customers in six Western states.