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Commentaries and editorials

Dam-Breaching Will Hurt Climate
- and May Not Help Fish

by Jo Elg and Will Hart
Idaho Statesman, August 29, 2009

For the past several weeks, Idahoans have read many stories about salmon recovery, hydropower and biological opinions. You have seen newspapers across the Pacific Northwest advocate for dam breaching, quote retired scientists, politicians, judges and environmental activists.

Unfortunately, the opinions and needs of the hard-working citizens of Idaho and bordering states who count on the clean, emission-free, reliable and affordable power that the dams provide are more often than not left out of these articles.

Over 120,000 Idahoans have their electricity needs met by member utilities of the Idaho Consumer-owned Utilities Association (ICUA). Farmers, ranchers, hospitals, schools, churches, and businesses large and small rely on the rural electric cooperatives and municipal power companies who make up the membership of ICUA. Collectively, ICUA can be considered the second largest utility in Idaho based on the number of customers served.

ICUA is extremely concerned that our ability to continue to provide clean, reliable, and affordable power to our friends and neighbors will be drastically reduced and the cost drastically increased if the will of those minority interests who favor removing the Snake River dams comes to fruition. Our members also are concerned that the unprecedented billions of dollars of their customers' money that has been used effectively over the past decades to provide for fish recovery will have been spent in vain if the dams are destroyed.

In order to make additional fish recovery progress and despite the additional investment of billions of dollars that will be committed by our members, ICUA supports the 2008 Federal Biological Opinion (BiOp) on Columbia and Snake River hydro operations. The BiOp was crafted through an unprecedented collaborative process including the majority of affected states, treaty and non-treaty tribes and the federal government. The science behind the BiOp is sound. All factors that might limit survival of these complex species were analyzed, including factors throughout their life cycle from freshwater to the ocean and back.

The members of ICUA also care about the environment. Public power in Idaho has been on the forefront in providing energy efficiency programs for our members and in pursuing additional "green" power resources including wind, solar and biomass.

We find it ironic in a time where there is much debate and anxiety regarding global climate change that any person, organization or news outlet that shares our environmental concerns would be in favor of eliminating this clean, renewable emission-free source of power.

If the dams are eliminated, an estimated additional 4.4 million tons of carbon dioxide would be released into the atmosphere every year. That doesn't include the emissions from the thousands of trucks that would be required to move the multitude of products that are now shipped by barge down the rivers.

Consumers are saying "enough" to those interests who are more committed to making political statements and causing additional regional strife and controversy than they are in supporting sound science for fish recovery and clean renewable power for our state.

We urge our congressional delegation to maintain their long-standing support of this critical power source. Together, the collaborative process has brought us to the precipice of a solution. Let us now see it through for the benefit of the fish, our environment and our economy.

Jo Elg is president of Idaho Consumer-Owned Utilities Association
Will Hart is executive director of the Idaho Consumer-owned Utilities Association.
Dam-Breaching Will Hurt Climate - and May Not Help Fish
Idaho Statesman, August 29, 2009

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