Dam Breaching an Issue
by Rocky Barker
Salmon and dams could play a role in who wins the U.S. Senate race in Oregon.
Incumbent Republican Gordon Smith has made protecting the four lower Snake dams on the Snake River in Washington a foundation of his own energy policy, following the roadmap of President George Bush in 2004 and Democrat Maria Cantwell in 2006.
His Democratic challenger, Oregon Speaker of the House Jeff Merkley, has not endorsed dam breaching. But he has said the magic words that please salmon advocates, he's keeping his options open.
"We agree with Jeff's pledge to allow science, not politics, to determine the best approach for protecting our salmon, including the option of removing the four lower Snake River dams if the science shows it is needed," said 10 prominent Oregon environmentalists including Ancient Forests crusader Andy Kerr, 1000 Friends of Oregon executive director Bob Stacey and Nicole Cordan, one of the leading salmon activists. The letter was released Tuesday September 30.
To win Oregon Democrats and even Republicans have to attract Green voters. Oregon has a long tradition going back to Gov. Tom McCall in the 1970s of environmental politics. It's no surprise that the only major elected official in the Pacific Northwest to endorse breaching was former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.
Another important factor is that Oregon includes some of the critical salmon spawning habitat and fisheries on the Snake and its tributaries. The future of Grande Ronde River and the Snake through Hells Canyon are most tied to the fate of the four dams. Only Idaho has more pristine habitat in the region. Oregon also gets less federal hydropower from the Bonneville Power Administration than Washington.
The Merkley-Smith race is tight and the Democrat hopes to get progressive Willamette Valley voters out with an ambitious environmental platform that includes: ancient forest protection, ocean protection, reducing greenhouse gases 80 percent by 2050 and increased mass transit to make cities more livable. The dam position is perhaps the starkest contrast with Smith.
The only other major candidate in the region making salmon an issue is remarkably, Idaho Lieutenant Gov. Jim Risch, running against Democrat Larry LaRocco for Larry Craig's Senate seat. Risch told the Idaho Statesman editorial board "I'm not a breacher." But when he announced his consensus-based roadless deal he called for a similar effort to bring environmentalists, sportsmen, industry and government together to resolve the salmon debate. The first person to endorse his effort was Chris Wood, chief operation officer for Trout Unlimited, a group on record calling for breaching the four dams.
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