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Hyperbole, Hysteria Won't Solve
Lower Snake River Dams Argument

by Editorial Board
Yakama Herald, February 10, 2024

At the very least, we wish the discussions
could be based on cool-headed truths

An aerial view of the Ice Harbor Dam near Pasco, looking east up the Snake River, on April 5, 2019. The reservoir behind the dam retains so much heat that the temperature exceeds the state standard for salmon survival in August every single day. Arguments over Eastern Washington's Lower Snake River dams have simmered for years, and they show no sign of chilling out anytime soon.

But we wish some of the rhetoric would. At the very least, we wish the discussions could be based on cool-headed truths -- not misleading exaggerations, assumptions or emotions.

If last week's display in Washington, D.C., is any indication, however, we're in for a lot of hot air before anybody comes up with a grownup solution.

On Jan. 24, Spokane's U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Sunnyside's Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and three other Republican lawmakers introduced the Defending Against Manipulative Negotiators (DAMN) Act. It's a showy response to a December agreement involving the Biden administration and the states of Washington, Oregon and four Northwest tribes -- including the Yakama Nation -- aimed at restoring Northwest salmon runs.

The act -- which has next to no chance of ever becoming law, but will take valuable time to argue about -- would prevent using federal funds to breach dams and to block the December salmon restoration agreement.

Though the salmon agreement doesn't focus on the dams, McMorris Rodgers, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, tore into it anyway. According to a report in the Spokesman-Review, McMorris Rodger called the agreement "a secret back-room deal to please radical environmentalists" and warned that getting rid of the dams would "destroy the lives of the people I represent."

That's a lot of hyperbole for one sentence -- even for a member of Congress.

It's also a lot of words that stir controversy and insult people who don't share McMorris Rodgers' views. At the same time, they're words that do nothing to provide any meaningful results for any of the people she represents.

As Jeremy Takala of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council pointed out, "the Yakama Nation is not a radical environmental special-interest group. Our inherent, sovereign rights and privileges are recognized and guaranteed by the treaty we signed with the U.S. in 1855."

And as Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, repeatedly noted during the discussion, only Congress has the authority to order the removal of the dams. Not the president, not the governor, not the tribes.

Newhouse and McMorris Rodgers know that. And they should know better than to set distracting backfires like the DAMN Act as the debate over the dams continues.

They're not the only one twisting the truth in this fight, of course. Politicians and activists from both sides of the aisle have resorted to embellishment on more than one occasion.

Breaching the 4 Lower Snake River Dams, the primary component of Multiple Objective 3 (MO3), reduces rate pressure by 5.1% immediately, and 15.1% win Lower Snake River Compensation Plan Hatcheries are shuttered, which would follow the recovery of Idaho's salmon. (source Columbia River System Operations Environmental Impact Statement) Takala himself was likely guilty of glossing over some uncomfortable truths when he said during the hearing that breaching the dams would have little effect on the region's energy rates.

The fact is, if the dams were removed, no one's certain exactly what the short-term energy costs would be. And as noble a cause as saving the salmon is, it's unrealistic to dismiss the understandable concerns of farmers who've relied on the water the dams have supplied since they were built back in the 1960s and '70s.

Regardless of where anybody stands on this one, the truth is that the effectiveness -- and effects -- of breaching the Lower Snake dams should be a quantifiable science problem, not a political debate. We can count salmon. We can measure power and water outputs.

Many of the questions at hand come down to provable truths.

And the next level of questions will get at what those truths mean for saving salmon and meeting the electrical, water and transportation demands of the growing Northwest.

This is one of our region's most important questions -- we have to get it right, so it's critical that the strategy is fact-based. Distorting such a complex and crucial issue with misleading information and political theatrics isn't the answer.

Editorial Board
Hyperbole, Hysteria Won't Solve Lower Snake River Dams Argument
Yakama Herald, February 10, 2024

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