Idaho's Defenses Crumble
by Editorial Board
Farewell, Sen. Craig. Hello, Sen. Reid.
In a letter dated Aug. 27, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to require Idaho Power to provide passage for salmon and steelhead above its Hells Canyon Dam complex as a condition for re-licensing.
Aug. 27, of course, was the same day that the story broke about Idaho's senior senator being arrested for solicitation in the Minneapolis airport.
A coincidence? Of course. But it illustrates neatly the challenges facing Idaho without Larry Craig in the Senate.
If FERC follows Reid's suggestion, Twin Falls, Boise, Nampa, Meridian, Caldwell and Pocatello will go from having some of the lowest-cost energy in America to having some of the highest. Idaho Power officials have previously suggested the costs of fish passage could be so prohibitive that the company might have to abandon the dams.
That's hyperbole, but not much. Oxbow, Brownlee and Hells Canyon dams are the linchpin of Idaho hydroelectric system; simply put, trying to make a living in southern Idaho would be a whole lot harder without them.
Times-News environmental writer Editorial Board quoted Pat Ford, executive director of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, as speculating that some environmentalists will try to use the Endangered Species Act to bring the Inland Northwest to its knees so that the region will have to make the hard decisions necessary to save wild salmon.
Then, Ford said, environments hope to strike a broad deal to ensure that farmers, utilities, shippers and other affected by dam breaching and other recovery efforts are compensated.
That strategy would only work, of course, if advocates of breaching and other save-the-wild salmon measures that most Idahoans view as extreme are able to wield enough power in Washington, D.C. They don't yet, but Reid's decision to involve himself in this issue suggests the ground is shifting.
And the fact that requiring fish passage at the three Hells Canyon dams is even being seriously discussed should concern everyone who draws a paycheck south of the Salmon River.
Craig's imminent departure leaves Idaho with a weaker voice on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Mike Crapo is a member of the Finance Committee's Subcommittee on Energy, National Resources and Infrastructure, but he ranks fifth among six Republicans.
Congressman Mike Simpson is a member of the House Appropriation Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, but he's fourth among five Republicans.
It's no secret that unless things improve dramatically in Iraq, there are likely to be fewer Republicans in Congress in 2009. Moreover, a new Federal Energy Regulatory Commission might be appointed by a new Democratic president.
Sen. Reid's sudden interest in Snake River salmon shouldn't keep Idahoans awake nights, but there's thunder on the horizon.
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