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Commentaries and editorials

I'm Not Proposing we Breach
Dams on the Snake River

by Jim McDermott, Congressman
Opinion, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 2, 2001

Last week I introduced legislation that I hope will begin a dialogue on a difficult choice facing this region in the coming years.

The Salmon Planning Act, HR 2573, is a framework to plan for likely scenarios under the Bush administration's current budget. The bill calls for a study by the General Accounting Office of the potential economic impacts on local communities if salmon-recovery efforts called for under the plan fail and a decision is made to partially remove the four dams on the Lower Snake River.

In addition, the GAO study will address potential economic impacts on local and regional economies if the salmon and steelhead populations become extinct.

The Salmon Planning Act is not a proposal to breach the Lower Snake River dams. It is a measure to authorize evaluation of three dam options:

In the last two cases, the study is essential to help the fishery-based and non-fishery-based segments of the local economies survive.

For centuries, salmon and steelhead have been an integral part of the Northwest ecosystem. Long before the first white settlers arrived, salmon were central to the lives of native peoples of the region. They were a source of food and of cultural and spiritual sustenance and are recognized as a symbol of the Northwest and a mainstay of its regional economy. Commercial fishermen and the sport-fishing industry rely on consistent runs of salmon and steelhead.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Army Corps of Engineers constructed four dams on the Lower Snake River. They provide energy, water for irrigation and a barge system for transporting goods between inland and ocean ports. In the intervening years, 12 genetically distinct populations of salmon and steelhead have plummeted and now are either functionally extinct or are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

In addition, scientific studies have shown that declining salmon runs parallel the declining health of the overall ecosystem in the Columbia and Snake River basin. Independent studies by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Fish and Wildlife Service portray an ecosystem in peril. Despite the dams' presence, the economies of the communities served by the waterway likewise have declined.

Although economic analyses differ as to whether the dams are an asset or a hindrance, the costs are enormous. Taxpayers and Bonneville ratepayers will spend $77 million per year over the next decade on operations and maintenance costs.

Transportation subsidies for moving commodities by barge are approximately $35 million per year. Furthermore, we are spending close to $200 million per year on salmon mitigation measures on both the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Many of us feel a grave responsibility to protect the health of our environment, but the federal government must ensure that it honors its treaty obligations. Numerous agreements with native tribes in Oregon, Washington, Alaska and the Canadian government commit our government to ensuring the continued viability of salmon runs. Failure to do so could expose taxpayers to billions of dollars in litigation and compensatory obligations.

Four major areas of concern need to be addressed about salmon preservation:

Last December, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued the Federal Salmon Recovery Plan for endangered salmon runs on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The Salmon Planning Act subjects that plan to peer review by the National Academy of Sciences. The NMFS plan attempts to avoid breaching the dams with restoration measures to re-establish viable populations.

I support this plan and hope we continue to make every effort to devise a workable solution without breaching the dams.

However, the Bush administration has failed to allocate sufficient funds to implement the NMFS plan. Full funding of the restoration measures will cost an estimated $1.2 billion per year until viable salmon populations have been restored. The current administration has chosen to sacrifice salmon and the economy of the Northwest in favor of extravagant tax cuts. If President Bush is truly committed to saving the salmon and to maintaining the dams as he promised during his campaign last year, the time for action is now. The window of opportunity to save our salmon and steelhead is quickly disappearing.

The Salmon Planning Act will not result in breaching of the dams. That action cannot be taken without funding by Congress. If we intend to make the best decision, the groundwork and planning must start now. This bill does exactly that.

Related Pages:
Salmon Planning Act: H.R. Bill 2573

Members of the US House of Representatives supporting the Salmon Planning Act as of 10/18/01:

1.Rep.Jim McDermott (D-WA)
2.Rep.Thomas Petri (R-WI)
3.Rep.Brad Sherman (D-CA)
4.Rep.David Bonior (D-MI)
5.Rep.Cynthia McKinney (D-GA)
6.Rep.Robert Borski (D-PA)
7.Rep.Grace Napolitano (D-CA)
8.Rep.Richard Neal (D-MA)
9.Rep.Frank Pallone,Jr.(D-NJ)
10.Rep.George Miller (D-CA)
11.Rep.Thomas Sawyer (D-OH)
12.Rep.Luis Gutierrez (D-IL)
13.Rep.Donald Payne (D-NJ)
14.Rep.Tom Udall (D-NM)
15.Rep.Lane Evans (D-IL)
16.Rep.Robert Andrews (D-NJ)
17.Rep.Rod Blagojevich (D-IL)
18.Rep.Jim Leach (R-IA)
19.Rep.Patsy Mink (D-HI)
20.Rep.Jerry Costello (D-IL)
21.Rep.Hilda Solis (D-CA)
22.Rep.Patrick Kennedy (D-RI)
23.Rep.Betty McCollum (D-MN)
24.Rep.Martin Olav Sabo (D-MN)
25.Rep.John Tierney (D-MA)
26.Rep.Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI)
27.Rep.Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
28.Rep.Robert Wexler (D-FL)
29.Rep.Lynn Rivers (D-MI)
30.Rep.Anna Eshoo (D-CA)
31.Rep.Henry Waxman (D-CA)
32.Rep.Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
33.Rep.Fortney "Pete " Stark ((D-CA)
34.Rep.Chaka Fattah (D-PA)
35.Rep.William Coyne (D-PA)
36.Rep.Lynn Woolsey (D-CA)
37.Rep.Bob Filner (D-CA)
38.Rep.Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
39.Rep.Jim Ramstad (R-MN)
40.Rep.John Olver (D-MA)
41.Rep.Jerry Kleczka (D-WI)
42.Rep.Thomas Barrett (D-WI)
43.Rep.Steven Rothman (D-NJ)
44.Rep.Dale Kildee (D-MI)
45.Rep.Nydia Velázquez (D-NY)
46.Rep.Edward Markey (D-MA)
47.Rep.Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)
48.Rep.Bill Luther (D-MN)

Jim McDermott is a Democrat representing Seattle's 7th Congressional District.
I'm Not Proposing we Breach Dams on the Snake River
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 2, 2001

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