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Commentaries and editorials

Energy or Salmon?

by Editorial Board
Columbia Basin Herald, September 17, 2009

A new conservation plan to save salmon on the Snake River was offered by the Obama administration recently.

The plan was developed during the Bush administration and completed last year. Then some measures were added.

One measure is monitoring climate changes and the impacts on the Snake River and salmon. It is a reasonable change and should be part of the criteria when examining potential methods to increase salmon populations.

Another measure is political and well, stupid.

Should the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) find the need, they are allowed to breach four dams on the lower Snake River, generating electricity for the region.

"The key to this insurance plan are contingency measures that will be implemented in case of a significant decline in fish abundance," NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco said before the Associated Press.

She testified before the Natural Resources Committee Wednesday how she believes dam breaching is a legal requirement to protect four runs of endangered fish on the lower Snake River. She then declined to answer if she felt it would be a "legal requirement" to consider breaching the Dalles, John Day, McNary and Bonneville dams on the Columbia River to help 13 runs of protected fish species.

Lubchenco said dam breaching would be a last resort, but is on record for requesting money to start the engineering work on breaching the dams. Which is it - last resort or first? Why plan on tearing them down if it is a last resort? When asked during the committee meeting, she didn't answer.

While she dodged frank questions from committee member Congressman Doc Hastings, an environmental organization didn't hesitate to demonstrate the political nature of the changes to the plan.

"Again, we've had eight years of these same actions and same kind of work, and what we're seeing is a whole lot of money spent and not a whole lot of impact happening on the ground," said Nicole Cordan, legal and policy director of the Save Our Wild Salmon coalition.

We wonder if she meant dam breaching when talking about "not a whole lot of impact happening on the ground."

Hastings tried to evoke a direct answer about Lubchenco's hypocritical "last resort" but-let's-plan-and-pay-for-it-first-anyway approach. Her failure to address the precedent of dam breaching was also ominous. It gave the appearance of plans being made to clear the Columbia River of all dams.

The dams provide electricity and water used for people and irrigation. The reservoirs keep us from suffering from droughts. They keep food growing throughout the Columbia Basin to feed our state, nation and the world. The dams keep hospital equipment running when the sun goes down or the wind stops. They provide clean constant energy without carbon dioxide. The benefits from hydro power dams are ones of necessity for survival.

If Lubchenco really wants to encourage salmon populations to grow, she has many better methods to try before dam breaching. She could advocate the end of Indian nets stretching along miles of the Columbia River. She could push to reduce commercial salmon fishing or end it. She could follow the Colville Confederated Tribe's example of opening 26 miles of habitat for spawning by removing natural barriers. But instead of trying to put money towards planning for these efforts, she is already paving the way for dam breaching.

It appears Lubchenco does not like clean renewable energy. She prefers smoked salmon for dinner bought from an Indian reservation and cat food "featuring real salmon."

While the country searches for sources of clean energy to replace coal burning power plants, we find it ridiculous that the NOAA director and the president would want to tear out climate friendly green hydro dams to protect fish for a commercial industry or a sense of regional pride.

"The Obama administration has put dam removal back on the table and delivered just what dam removal extremists have been demanding," said Hastings.

We don't think this is the change our country voted for.

Related Sites:
YouTube link Congressman Doc Hastings formally questions NOAA's Lubchenco.

Related Pages:
Salmon, Water, Energy Policies Should be Considered Together by Sara Patton, The News Tribune, 8/26/9
Obama Did Little for Dam Breaching Advocates by Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman, 9/18/9
Despite Doc's Anxiety, Snake River Dams Likely to Stay by Editorial Board, Yakima Herald, 9/18/9

Editorial Board
Energy or Salmon?
Columbia Basin Herald, September 17, 2009

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