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Hastings' Breaching Resolution Approved

Mike Lee, Tri-City Herald - July 22, 1999

The U.S. House Resources Committee passed a resolution Wednesday opposing Columbia-Snake dam breaching - though some say the action could energize those who want the dams torn down to restore fish runs.

While environmentalists in Washington state howled in disapproval, the Republican-controlled committee approved language by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., that said the Columbia-Snake dams "should be retained" and that "dam removal should not be the foundation of our salmon recovery efforts."

The bill - designed to express the will of Congress - promotes the economic benefits of Northwest dams and a desire to factor human costs into fish recovery proposals.

Hastings is trying to shift the focus of fish recovery efforts from dams to ocean conditions, harvests and predators that eat millions of migrating fish at the Columbia's mouth.

"I am being a lot more open-minded than those who have been focused exclusively on dams," Hastings said. "There are a number of other factors that we need to look at."

Environmental groups criticized his bill, saying it would pre-empt a regional debate.

But Hastings said the committee's decision was the result of months of education about the benefits of the Columbia-Snake hydroelectric generating system, and he called it a "victory for everyone who wants to protect the dams."

The resolution may be considered by the full House, though the summer focus on the federal budget will keep the measure shelved for several weeks at least.

However, two Northwest members of the House Resource Committee said pushing the resolution to the House floor could jeopardize the region's attempt to find its own fish solution.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., opposed Hastings' resolution, though his aide Jeff Stier said DeFazio is not supporting dam breaching. "He's concerned that if Congressman Hastings brings this to the floor, he could lose the vote," Stier said. "This is energizing the environmental movement at the national level. ... It gives them a cause to organize against."

Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee, who now represents a district in Western Washington, urged Hastings not to "roll the dice on the floor of the House."

"Members of Congress around the country want to get their hands on our cheap electricity," said Inslee, who represented the 4th Congressional District for one term before being defeated by Hastings in 1994 and moving to the west side of the state.

"Exposing this to Congress is tactically very unwise," Inslee said. "We ought to be working together on a regional basis."

Bill Arthur at the Sierra Club in Seattle also said Hastings' bill invites a national debate over the Northwest's relatively cheap power and the role of the dams in the precipitous decline of salmon.

"We welcome this debate," he said. "Northwest leaders need to develop a comprehensive, scientifically credible plan if they don't like the dam removal option. Simply opposing dam removal is not an option."

Hastings said the Snake River dams are on "every extreme environmentalist's list" already. "If there are people who don't think it's a national issue, they haven't been paying attention."

A recently released study showed wild spring and summer chinook salmon in the Snake River could go extinct by 2017 unless changes are made to the river system.

Environmental groups say the best chance of averting extinctions is to tear out the four dams between Pasco and Lewiston.

But river users say salmon recovery is far from assured if the dams are destroyed and that such a move will send the region into an economic tailspin as the price rises to send goods to market and the power supply is reduced.

Two federal studies due this year are supposed to recommend salmon-saving strategies. A vote by Congress would be needed to breach the dams.

Hastings said his challenge now is to "educate" about 375 members of Congress who aren't on the Resource Committee about Northwest dams before he introduces his resolution to the full House.

"We're just going to have to work on it member by member, group by group, region by region," he said. "We will probably use the same sort of techniques we used five years ago on the Hanford budget."

Related Links:
Text of Committee Resolution

Mike Lee
Hastings' Breaching Resolution Approved
Tri-City Herald - July 22, 1999

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