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Dams Don't Add Up

by J. Robb Brady
Post Register, November 21, 2006

Four dams on the Lower Snake River in eastern Washington are a waste.

They cost millions to operate.

Taxpayers and electric ratepayers are on the hook for millions more because the dams are killing salmon faster than we can replace them.

So we'd all be ahead if the federal government simply tore out those dams -- to say nothing of the money the Northwest economy would earn from a healthy salmon fishing industry.

That's not some environmentalist, fish-loving advocacy group saying it. It's Taxpayers for Common Sense, a bottom-line oriented lobby that goes after boondoggles like the "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska or subsidizing oil and gas companies when they're making record profits.

In its report released last week, Taxpayers for Common Sense outlined the next best thing to a congressional cost-benefit analysis of the dams.

Luring it to the project were the billions already spent and projected to be spent on salmon recovery in the Northwest. Indeed, salmon recovery now is the most expensive species restoration project in the country -- and there's no end in sight. The government will spend $600 million a year just to keep the fish from going extinct, not to bring them back to healthy numbers.

Maybe that's not disturbing to Idaho Gov.-elect Butch Otter and Idaho's congressional delegation, who have -- not surprisingly -- dismissed the latest study. But you have to wonder how much longer the rest of the country will be willing to put up with this.

Here's how the situation might appear to them:

Taxpayers for Common Sense freely admits its numbers are estimates. What's needed is a new study adding up the dams' benefits and their costs. Already, nearly 100 Republican and Democratic members of Congress support assigning the Government Accounting Office -- the independent research arm of Congress -- to do just that.

A Democratic majority in Congress may champion that idea.

If the study happens, Idaho's politicians could be in for a surprise.

For your information

Here's how Taxpayers for Common Sense adds up the numbers.

Continuing to operate the dams will require $7.8 billion to $9.09 billion in the next decade. That includes:

It adds up to savings of at least $1.65 billion in the next decade. At best, taxpayers could save $11.9 billion during the same period.

Source: "Revenue Stream," Taxpayers for Common Sense

J. Robb Brady
Dams Don't Add Up
Post Register, November 20, 2006

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