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Commentaries and editorials

Removing Dams Will Hurt
the Most Vulnerable Among Us

by Kurt Miller
Statesman Journal, March 18, 2022

Roughly one-third of Oregonians and over half of Washingtonians
could see their bills increase by as much as 25%, or more.

In my role as a clean energy and community advocate, I frequently travel across the Northwest. In my meetings with electric utility managers, they often want to discuss the importance of reliable and affordable energy for their disadvantaged customers.

So I was moved by an open letter Gov. Kate Brown penned to Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington state legislators in which she panned Washington's "bad idea" for a new gasoline export tax.

Brown criticized the lack of interstate collaboration from Washington's policymakers, and rightly asserted the export tax would harm working families on the south side of the Columbia River: "A tax increase of even a few cents could place an unreasonable burden on Oregonians, who are already facing the same pain at the gas pump as people in Washington."

Although I'm a clean energy supporter, I'm with Brown here. Having grown up in Fairview, Oregon, and now a resident of Vancouver, Washington, I understand the interstate relationship between our communities. It seems unjust for Washington to tax Oregonians without representation or benefit.

However, respectfully, it's reasonable to ask if Brown is following her own recommendation when it comes to Oregon's energy policies.

For example, Brown directed Oregon to file a legal injunction against the federal hydropower system last summer. If approved, this could cost hundreds of millions of dollars yearly for electric customers across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Given this, did Brown reach out to the governors of her neighboring states or to mayors of Oregon cities before going to court? We're not aware of Brown publicly vetting such a major decision, even within her own state.

Had Brown met her desired standard for collaboration, her choice to litigate still qualifies as a bad idea, because the theoretical benefits for salmon are questionable, but the damage to communities is virtually certain.

Now, Oregon's motion has been temporarily stayed by the court while Oregon and other plaintiff groups work to negotiate a settlement with the Biden administration to try to get the lower Snake River dams removed.

Unfortunately, the motion and the settlement the plaintiff groups are proposing are two sides of the same coin. Breaching the lower Snake River dams and replacing their zero-carbon generating capabilities is estimated to cost the region roughly $16 billion over a 20-year period, according to a federal agencies study.

If Brown's dam removal efforts succeed, customers getting their electricity from community-owned utilities -- roughly one-third of Oregonians and over half of Washingtonians -- could see their bills increase by as much as 25%, or more.

Families already struggling with high gasoline prices, inflation and rising housing costs could face another financial blow should their electricity costs increase so dramatically.

Brown has implored Washington state's policy leaders to put their bad idea on the shelf. We implore her to do the same and rethink her current course on the dams. There are other ways to help salmon that don't harm our most vulnerable.

Kurt Miller is the executive director of Northwest RiverPartners -- a not-for-profit that advocates hydropower for its members who include consumer-owned utilities, ports, and businesses across the Northwest.
Removing Dams Will Hurt the Most Vulnerable Among Us
Statesman Journal, March 18, 2022

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