A Hopeless Bill Can Make a Pointby Tracy Warner
Wenatchee World, August 17, 2012
It was all a show, really. Rep. Doc Hastings is the powerful chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and so used his fairly won leverage to make a point, to strike back, to draw attention to his cause, to expose and frighten political enemies. He did this by introducing legislation he knows will not pass, and held a congressional hearing on the subject in his home town Wednesday, before a sympathetic audience, immediately following a pep rally in a nearby park,
This was obvious and heavy-handed. Reading the accounts of the event in Pasco makes you uncomfortable if your political inclinations favor collaboration and consensus. But, like him or not, tactics and temperament aside, this time Hastings is mostly right.
The subject was Hastings' new bill with the subtle title, the Saving Our Dams and New Hydropower Development and Jobs Act. It is protective, and promotional, and holds up the economic and social benefits of the great hydroelectric dams of the Columbia and Snake rivers. It would declare that hydropower is a renewable energy source, which it obviously is, the most plentiful and renewable of carbon-free renewables, left off the official renewable lists so we will pay for windmills. The bill would prohibit federal funding from being used "to remove, breach or study the removal or breaching of any hydropower dam unless explicitly authorized by Congress," which is emphatic, if redundant. Courts and judges and lawyers spend the years talking about dam breaching, and discuss ordering people to think more about it and consider it a "novel approach," but that's enough.
The bill cuts off federal funding to organizations that seek A Hopeless Bill Can Make a Point or the "diminishment of hydropower" through lawsuits against the federal government. This is an obvious dig at the environmental activist organizations that have helped keep the region in court since the Clinton administration, endlessly arguing before a sympathetic federal judge that more should be done to save salmon from imminent extinction, even when salmon are plentiful, seeking measures priced in the billions, whether effective or not, sending small armies of scientists and bureaucrats back over and over to compile new plans of action they then will tell the judge are inadequate and useless and have to be redone and made even more expensive and dubious. This is done in the hope the judge will declare four high-value Snake River dams illegal. Hastings and many others are plainly fed up. He would use legislation to strike back at those with whom he disagrees, and that's wrong, but some people will wonder why the federal government gives money to these groups, anyway.
The bill prohibits spilling water over dams if it may harm endangered salmon, which is the source of much debate and disagreement. Spill is a political and economic issue. The bill would force power marketers to report what percentage of your bill goes for fish and wildlife, which could have shock value.
It's all about countering a threat, said Hastings. When you target dams, you target the livelihood and life of the inland Northwest. "The bill would prohibit groups filing lawsuits against the government from collecting federal funds and grants. Why should taxpayers fund both defendants and plaintiffs?" Hastings said in his opening statement. " ... Again, the purpose of this bill is to protect and promote the clean, green, renewable hydropower generated from dams, and the many other benefits they provide."
I don't care for political showbiz, but this time I can't fault the motive.
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