McConnell's fuming over fish a little off the hook

February 5, 2014 

The duskytail darter was listed as endangered in 1993.

A two-inch endangered fish is the perfect foil for the U.S. Senate's most powerful Republican.

But, seriously, can't Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rail against what he calls "the radical environmentalists in the Obama administration" without insulting everyone's intelligence?

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Kentucky's senior senator rose to berate federal agencies for following federal law after the discovery of the endangered duskytail darter in Lake Cumberland's headwaters.

The discovery could delay raising the popular lake's water level back to where it was before 2007 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers drastically lowered the lake by 43 feet to make emergency repairs to Wolf Creek Dam.

While there was still plenty of water in Cumberland, the lower water levels hurt tourism and put some businesses under. The Corps was able to raise the water by 25 feet, within 18 feet of "normal," last year, and boating and tourism rebounded. Still, marinas and other businesses were looking forward to promoting a full lake this summer.

The Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working on a plan to accommodate both the darter and those who want a full lake, but that plan probably won't be ready in time to raise the lake to pre-2007 levels by Memorial Day.

"The absurdity of the Obama administration's posture on this issue is manifest,'' huffed McConnell. "First, the administration is protecting a fish from water. Let me repeat that: the radical environmentalists in the Obama administration don't want this fish to be exposed to too much water. What's next? Protecting birds from too much sky?"

Surely, McConnell understands that different fish require different sorts of habitats — just as birds cannot survive on sky alone.

The duskytail darter is found in Virginia, Tennessee and now Kentucky in clear, slow-running streams with rock bottoms and no siltation; its environment has been fragmented by damming up so many streams to make lakes and also by development and mining that silt up formerly clear streams. The darter was listed as endangered in 1993.

Maybe McConnell has been in Washington too long. But even if he's not much of an outdoors person, the senator should be familiar with the concept of aquatic habitats from dining with lobbyists at fine D.C. watering holes and reading menus that include freshwater fish and saltwater fish.

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