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Congress Blasts Biden for Secret Negotiations
to Destroy Dams and Protect Salmon

by Eden Villalovas
Washington Examiner, November 22, 2023

Representative Dan Newhouse, R-Washington, discusses the subject of the four Lower Snake River dams with fellow House members and representatives of regional agencies and organizations. Four Northwest Republican lawmakers asked the federal government to share details of "secretive negotiations" between the government and environmental groups that have called for the removal of dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

In a Nov. 20 letter to Brenda Mallory, chairwoman of the Council on Environmental Quality, the lawmakers reminded the White House that Congress has the authority to weigh in on President Joe Biden's potential removal of dams in the Columbia River Basin to rebuild salmon runs.

"In addition to expecting the immediate transmittal of the proposed USG commitments, we find it necessary to remind you Congress alone has the authority not only to order the breach of the Lower Snake River Dams, but also exclusive authority to direct the study of breaching or to authorize replacement resources," the letter reads.

A federal court in Oregon paused a two-year-old lawsuit on Oct. 31 until Dec. 15 after parties challenging the federal government asked for more time to negotiate with one another. Within those 45 days, parties will work to save endangered salmon runs on the rivers.

In a joint court filing from the federal government and eco-groups, parties claimed to "have developed a package of actions and commitments that they intend to discuss with the other regional sovereigns and litigation parties and, following conferral, present to the Parties' decision-makers for final review and approval."

The court filing states parties will ask the court for a multiyear stay of the litigation, if the package of actions and commitment is approved, but did not clarify specifics of the package. The Republican lawmakers requested access to that package by Dec. 1.

"Stakeholders and our constituents are concerned their long-standing contributions to the process have not been incorporated into the final product, nor their concerns heeded. If this were to happen, we are greatly concerned the package would not be reflective of the needs of people across the Pacific Northwest," the letter reads, signed by Reps. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Cliff Bentz (R-OR), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and Russ Fulcher (R-ID).

Speaking at a conservation summit at the Interior Department in March, Biden pledged to work with tribes and Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) to help protect salmon in the basin.

Republican lawmakers and players in Washington's public power industry, such as Public Power Council, have voiced frustration at the Biden administration for overlooking their concerns and leaving them out of the process.

"The people of the Pacific Northwest have really been let down by this so-called process being run by the Council on Environmental Quality," Public Power Council CEO and Executive Director Scott Simms said in a press statement.

"Our non-profit, community-owned member utilities and their customers were never given a real chance from the get-go, as we just recently learned a few parties in the litigation were working secretly with the federal government for more than six months on a 'package of actions and commitments,'" Simms said.

In a September memo, the Biden administration did not explicitly call for the breaching of four hydroelectric dams on the Lower Snake River in Washington state, a move tribes and environmental groups have pushed for years. Instead, Biden urged federal agencies to restore native fish populations in the basin, honoring the administration's treaty responsibilities with Pacific Northwest tribes.

Eden Villalovas
Congress Blasts Biden for Secret Negotiations to Destroy Dams and Protect Salmon
Washington Examiner, November 22, 2023

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