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Dam Breachers on a Comeback

by Tracy Warner, Editorial Page editor
Wenatchee World, November 16, 2006

It's been a week since the Republicans were thumped and already the holy unattainables, the holdovers, the proposals justly ignored in a GOP Congress, are on the rise. No one forgets. They still want to breach the Snake River dams.

The dam breaching advocates, a consortium of environmentalists and fishermen, gained a bit of attention this week when they released a "study that purported to show breaching four federal hydroelectric dams on the Snake River would lead to a miraculous increase in salmon runs, save federal taxpayers billions, and bring such an explosion of tourism and newfound wealth for fishermen that the regional economy would reach new heights of prosperity. And, they say, you can take out 5 percent of the region's hydropower and replace it with windmills and "conservation" with such ease that we all will be grateful in the end. You can read the study at

This "study" was mainly a restatement of earlier propaganda from the same groups that experts fairly dismissed as fantasy. The Snake River dams produce 1,200 megawatts of the cheapest and cleanest electricity in the world, enough to power Seattle with watts to spare. Replacing it with unreliable, intermittent, taxpayer-subsidized wind power at five times the cost will not be easy. It certainly won't be cheap. The dam breaching "study" estimates the cost at $79 million a year on the low end. The Bonneville Power Administration says it will be more like $600 million a year. That's a bit of a disparity.

It doesn't matter if the numbers are phony. It matters that someone believes them. They can bring new political leverage.

The new dam breaching study brought a terse reply from dam defenders like Rep. Doc Hastings, who pointed out that the atmosphere has changed.

"These groups will go to any extreme to push their dam removal agenda. They'll manufacture a study or ignore scientific facts, whatever it takes to tear out our dams.

"For six years I've stopped any action in the U.S. House on Rep. McDermott's dam removal legislation. One can expect these groups will be pushing hard for action next year. With Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi on record in support of breaching Northwest dams, those who share my commitment to protecting our dams need to be on high alert."

There is some bitterness in that assessment, but some truth. How high the alert needs to be remains to be seen. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray oppose dam breaching. It's doubtful Congress will agree to tear out federal facilities in their state over their objection. But the idea has spark. Last month the ex-governor of Oregon John Kitzhaber and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt renewed their support for dam breaching in a speech in Portland. Their reasoning was faulty: Protecting salmon is a huge federal expense. Salmon are not recovering enough to suit them. Therefore, the Snake River dams have to go.

Well, some of the biggest salmon runs ever recorded have been in the last 10 years. And, almost none of the endangered salmon in the Northwest go over the Snake River Dams, so tearing them out would do them no good. It certainly wouldn't greatly reduce the federal expense, which incidentally is borne entirely by Northwest electric ratepayers, who would get a pretty big added kick in their pocketbooks without the Snake River dams.

This idea should die, but it lives. And in Congress, it has a whole new audience.

Related Pages:
An Apology Owed by Liz Hamilton, Wenatchee World, 11/23/6

Tracy Warner, Editorial Page editor
Dam Breachers on a Comeback
Wenatchee World, November 16, 2006

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