the film
Commentaries and editorials

Despite Rumors, 'Confidential' Snake River Mediation
Draft Doesn't Call for Dam Breach

by Emily Goodell
Apple Valley News, December 2, 2023

Lower Monumental Dam PACIFIC NORTHWEST -- Federal lawmakers are speaking out after a confidential mediation document from negotiations regarding an ongoing lawsuit on the future of the Lower Snake River dams was made public on Wednesday -- the latest controversy in the years-long debate over potential dam breaching.

Proponents of dam breaching have argued that the science shows the dams negatively impact the ecosystem and have contributed to the extinction of several salmon populations. Opponents have expressed concerns about the potential economic impact for power companies and their customers, as well as a lack of transparency and public input in the decision-making process.

However, while some media outlets have called the newly released document a 'leaked secret plan' that shows the Biden administration is preparing for dam breaching, nowhere in the more than 30-page document does it state definitively that the government plans to breach the dams.

What is the 'confidential' document about?

The document itself is titled "U.S. Government Commitments in Support of the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative and in Partnership with the Six Sovereigns." It appears to be a draft from Nov. 2 of a confidential mediation document not intended for distribution to the public and was provided to media organizations by federal lawmakers.

The six sovereigns referenced include Oregon, Washington, the Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation.

Within the document is a proposed "package of actions and commitments" the federal government is working to negotiate with plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit over the future of the dams, along with states and tribes.

It's essentially a list of what funding or resources government agencies would be willing to commit to help restore salmon populations - including some things that would only apply if the dams were breached.

What's been the response from federal lawmakers?

Federal lawmakers, including -- Joint Statement from Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05), Dan Newhouse (WA-04), Cliff Bentz (OR-02) and Russ Fulcher (ID-01) have sent a letter to the Biden administration asking for clarification on the contents of the document, what it means for the future of the Lower Snake River dams and what their official position is on breaching the dams.

In the letter, they ask questions like why a proposed "Pacific Northwest Tribal Energy Program" would only provide energy assistance to a handful of the dozens of federally recognized tribes in the region, who actually had input concerning the "commitments" mentioned in the draft document and how they plan to deal with the concerns from power companies and their customers.

Apple Valley News Now's Emily Goodell reached out to those federal lawmakers and was provided with a joint statement, saying:

"The people in our communities rely on the Lower Snake River dams and the Columbia River system to support their entire way of life. They deserve to know how this package of commitments and actions, which they had little say in, will impact our region if it is realized. We are on a fact-finding mission to get those answers from President Biden immediately."
How have other stakeholders responded to the document?

Power companies located in the Pacific Northwest have repeatedly spoken out about being shut out of lawsuit negotiations, despite the impacts any decision on the dams would have on their business and their customers.

The Benton Rural Electric Association, which serves more than 11,000 members in Benton, Yakima and Lewis counties, published a statement Wednesday responding to the document, saying "We should be included in conversations that effect our ability to serve our members and our perspective should be considered before any commitments are finalized."

Additionally, the executive directors of Northwest RiverPartners, the Public Power Council and the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association responded with a joint statement, saying "By purposely excluding our respective organizations from the negotiations, literally millions of Northwest residents were deprived of fair representation in this process."

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Biden administration had not published an official response to the release of the document or the letter from federal lawmakers.

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

Emily Goodell
Despite Rumors, 'Confidential' Snake River Mediation Draft Doesn't Call for Dam Breach
Apple Valley News, December 2, 2023

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation