the film
Commentaries and editorials

Fixing or Breaching Dams
Would Benefit Idaho and Salmon

by Ed Chaney
The Idaho Statesman, June 8, 2005

Editor's note: U.S. District Judge James Redden -- who rejected the federal government's salmon recovery plan in late May -- will be back in court Friday in Portland to discuss what to do in the short term. His decisions could affect industry, Indian tribes, recreationists, shippers and water users. This week, Idahoans will write about the value of salmon -- and the tradeoffs of recovery.
On May 26, U.S. District Judge James A. Redden threw out the National Marine Fisheries Service's third attempt in the past decade to evade the Endangered Species Act and protect four dysfunctional pork-barrel dams on the lower Snake River at the expense of endangered salmon and steelhead.

NMFS claimed the Corps of Engineers' ill-designed fish-killing dams are part of the natural landscape and, therefore, exempt from the act. The court disagreed.

There was the usual immediate flurry of hand-wringing and rending of cloth by the apologists for extinction. They trotted out the usual prophecies of economic doom if the court were to order the dams be brought into compliance with the law. It's all nonsense, of course. It has been extensively documented that fixing or even eliminating the four lower Snake River dams would be an economic boon to the region, and particularly to Idaho. Details are available at The bottom line is simply this: The Corps of Engineers negligently failed to design the four lower Snake River dams to pass juvenile salmon and steelhead as Congress intended in authorizing their construction. Disaster happened.

For decades, every effort to reduce the carnage at the dams has been fiercely resisted by the Columbia River Pork Alliance. This is the regional clique of compromised bureaucrats, monopolists, crony capitalists, entrenched pork-barrel economic interests, and allied political demagogues who feed off the output of the federal dams and off each other. Bonneville Power Administration, which sells the energy produced by the federal dams, is the ringleader of the Pork Alliance and principal architect of the NMFS strategy to evade the Endangered Species Act.

This latest episode in federal court is part of a long-running betrayal of the public trust that now threatens extinction of wild salmon and steelhead produced in the vast pristine habitats of the Snake River Basin.

Once numbering in millions, these fish are a priceless, irreplaceable, evolutionary heritage tens of millions of years old. They are being sacrificed solely so Bonneville can wring more money out of the dams to pay its nuclear power-plant gambling debts, cover its losses from speculating on energy futures, and continue to bribe its political supporters with below-cost electricity.

The state of Idaho, of course, is the big loser. Idaho once led the effort to bring the four lower Snake River dams into compliance with the law.

Not any more. Idaho elected officials, notably Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and Sen. Larry Craig, are cheerleaders for the Pork Alliance. Idaho intervened in the recent court case in support of NMFS' losing position. It is not only the four lower Snake River dams that are dysfunctional. The federal courts are the only available antidote for failed public institutions and a vacuum of political leadership. It is time for the court to, in effect, take charge of the lower Snake River dams before it is too late to save the fish and too late to save Idaho from its current political leadership.

Ed Chaney, of Eagle, is president of Chinook Northwest Inc., a natural resource consultancy, and director of the Northwest Resource Information Center in Eagle.
Fixing or Breaching Dams Would Benefit Idaho and Salmon
The Idaho Statesman, June 8, 2005

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