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Commentaries and editorials

Mediation Deal Doesn't Call
for Dam Breach

by Matthew Weaver
Capital Press, November 30, 2023

"We are calling on the entire Northwest congressional delegation to stand up for
the region's electric grid and the communities dependent on clean, reliable hydropower."

-- Scott Simms, CEO and executive director of the Public Power Council

Little Goose Dam on the Lower Snake River dam. A confidential mediation document released Nov. 29 by four members of Congress outlines steps the federal government will take to mitigate the breaching of the lower Snake River dams, but appears to make those steps contingent on Congress authorizing removal of the dams.

The document does not recommend the breaching of the dams, but concedes that breaching is an option that could be considered.

The document was released by Reps. Dan Newhouse, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Cliff Bentz and Russ Fulcher, who have sent a letter to President Biden seeking clarifications on the document's meaning.

The document, titled "U.S. Government Commitments in Support of the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative and in Partnership with the Six Sovereigns," appears to be a product of mediation between the government and environmental groups to settle long-running litigation over the dams' impacts on endangered salmon populations.

Parties in the lawsuit last month announced that they had reached an agreement, but that it would remain secret until filed with the court Dec. 14.

The document does not call for the breaching of the dams, but says that "the science is clear."

"While this United States Government (USG) response does not constitute a decision by the USG to support legislation to authorize dam breaching, the USG continues to be committed to exploring restoration of the Lower Snake River, including dam breach...," the document says.

The representatives have asked the president to clarify several points raised in the document.

The Biden administration in June said that while it was working with tribes, states and stakeholders in the region to develop a "long-term, durable plan" for the Columbia River System, it had not taken a position on whether it would recommend that Congress authorize breaching the dams.

The document outlines steps the government would take to help tribes replace electricity generated by the dams, upgrade transportation infrastructure, replace water supplies, restore fish populations and habitat.

Earthjustice, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, declined to comment on the document.

"Earthjustice and our plaintiffs will continue to adhere to the legal rules that are customary in mediation and established and managed by the FMCS. The package of actions and commitments remains confidential at this point and we cannot provide any detail beyond what is in the filings with the court," Elizabeth Manning, a spokesperson for Earthjustice, said.

Critics say the document all but calls for removal of the dams and threatens agriculture "in a way we've never seen before."

In a joint press release, the executive directors of Northwest RiverPartners, the Public Power Council, and the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association expressed "extreme concern" about the transparency of the process and impact on stakeholders.

"The (U.S. government) Commitments go well beyond creating a roadmap for breaching the lower Snake River dams, establishing a plan that could demolish the capabilities of the entire Federal Columbia River Power System," the joint statement reads. "The USG Commitments ignore scientific studies and rely solely on one unscientific NOAA policy document to justify spending billions of dollars."

"PPC and its non-profit member utilities believe these USG Commitments pose the single greatest threat to the vitality of the region's hydropower system we have ever faced," said Scott Simms, CEO and executive director of the Public Power Council, in the statement. "We are calling on the entire Northwest congressional delegation to stand up for the region's electric grid and the communities dependent on clean, reliable hydropower."

"We are extremely disappointed in the flawed process that led to these USG Commitments, which would eliminate shipping and river transportation in Idaho and eastern Washington and remove over 48,000 acres from food production," said Neil Maunu, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association. "These (U.S. government) commitments threaten the livelihoods of farmers, ports, and barging operators, and presents river system safety concerns in a way we've never seen before."

"These USG Commitments would be devastating to the millions of electricity customers across the region that depend on the affordability and reliability of hydropower," Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, stated. "As written, it hands the keys to anti-hydro parties whose stated objective is to dismantle the entire system. The outcome would gut the region's decarbonization efforts. Higher energy prices will hurt the very same vulnerable groups that will be negatively affected by climate change."

"Our organizations have repeatedly looked for ways to find common ground with the plaintiffs' concerns during the mediation process, submitting numerous inputs, documents, and studies," the joint statement reads. "Instead of working with all interests, the U.S. Government chose for months to hold secret negotiations and refused to share any details with us, let alone allow our participation. It is not surprising, then, that this proposal turns its back on over 3 million electricity customers as well as the farming, transportation, navigation, and economic needs of the region. By purposely excluding our respective organizations from the negotiations, literally millions of Northwest residents were deprived of fair representation in this process.

"The Northwest's hydropower system is the greatest tool available to fight climate change," the statement reads. "Destroying or diminishing the hydropower system to chase false 'solutions' is a lose-lose proposition for both people and salmon."

Related Pages:
Inslee-Murray Report: Snake River Dam Breaching Not Feasible Now by Matthew Weaver, Capital Press, 8/26/22

Related Sites:
Leaked Document of 11/2/23 and letter to President by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers

Matthew Weaver
Mediation Deal Doesn't Call for Dam Breach
Capital Press, November 30, 2023

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