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House Panel Rejects Dam Breaches for Salmon

By Jim Barnett, The Oregonian - July 22, 1999

Northwest Republicans win in committee but are pessimistic about a full vote

WASHINGTON -- Northwest House members who want to save Snake River dams won a moral victory in committee Wednesday.

But given the chance, said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., the full House would embrace the idea of breaching dams.

"My hunch is that if it became a national environmental issue, that we'd lose it in the House," said Walden, who opposes breaching. "I don't have any numbers. But that's the way environmental votes go around here."

Walden and other Northwest Republicans are backing a nonbinding resolution authored by Rep. Richard "Doc" Hastings, R-Wash., that rules out the option of breaching dams to save endangered runs of salmon. "I think we need to have a broader debate," Walden said.

On Wednesday, they had a receptive audience. The resolution passed the Resources Committee, which is dominated by Western Republicans sympathetic to farmers, bargers and others who depend on dams for their livelihoods.

But taking the next step -- winning a floor vote -- could be far more difficult because many members see breaching as a good political opportunity, Walden said.

Most House Democrats can be expected to oppose the resolution, Walden said, but Republicans, who control the House, could tip the balance. Moderates from the Northeast often vote with environmentalists, he said, and some conservatives support breaching as a cost-cutting measure.

"I don't mean to send shock waves out there," Walden said. "But that's why I say I think we'd have trouble on the floor of the House right now because so few of us have a dog in this fight."

The Senate, where Northwest members hold key positions, likely would oppose any breaching proposal, he added.

Among those opposing the House resolution was Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. Like many Northwest Democrats, he wants to leave the option open until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wraps up a study on the impact of breaching.

"Taking and focusing on one alternative and saying, 'That one shouldn't even be considered and any science opposed to that should just be cut off,' I think is very unwise," he said before the vote.

As expected, environmental groups including American Rivers and Save Our Wild Salmon condemned the resolution defending Ice Harbor, Lower Granite, Lower Monumental and Little Goose, all in Washington. But dam proponents such as the Columbia River Alliance have questioned whether the resolution would draw unwanted national attention to a divisive regional issue.

It's unclear whether Hastings, a member of the gate-keeping Rules Committee, will press for a floor vote soon. Jennifer Scott, a spokeswoman, said Hastings planned to continue discussing merits of the resolution with colleagues.

Jim Barnett
House Panel Rejects Dam Breaches for Salmon
The Oregonian - July 22, 1999

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