We Need to Both Help Salmon
by Steve Weiss
Like the confluence of mighty rivers, regional processes involving two Northwest icons -- wild salmon and clean energy -- are converging.
Two weeks ago, the Obama administration delivered its salmon strategy for the Columbia and Snake rivers to U.S. District Court Judge James Redden. After a four-month review, Obama's salmon team has adopted the rejected Bush administration plan as its own.
The Bush-turned-Obama plan embraces the failed programs of the past. Keeping expectations low, National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration chief Jane Lubchenco assures us the plan will "prevent further declines."
In other words, ratepayers and taxpayers will remain on the hook for roughly $1 billion a year for the next 10 years to, at best, merely maintain Columbia Basin wild salmon and steelhead at their already seriously imperiled levels.
The Obama strategy does not even aspire to rebuild the 13 threatened and endangered populations to healthy and fishable levels. The new plan, like the old one, leaves our fishermen heading straight for the rocks. Talk about a jobless recovery.
Attention has focused on some long-term contingencies included in Obama's plan, particularly potential consideration of lower Snake River dam removal should populations truly fall off the cliff.
Even then, we'd just get planning for further studies. It's like a health insurance policy that allows doctors to begin considering the ramifications of helping after you've arrived at the critical care unit. Such a policy gives neither you nor endangered salmon any guarantee of life-saving help.
Redden will review the lawfulness of the Obama plan this fall. For the sake of our salmon, our fishermen, fishing-dependent businesses and communities, and all the ratepayers and taxpayers who continue to pay for ineffective programs, let's hope that the judge knows just where to put this plan.
In a related development, on Monday the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's regional tour will stop in Eugene to solicit public input on its draft Sixth Power and Conservation Plan. The plan proposes ways to meet our region's future electricity needs. Given the council's twin missions of planning for energy and meeting the needs of salmon and other fish and wildlife, the final energy plan will strongly affect both our economy and environment.
The ignored elephant in the room, of course, is global warming. While this draft plan breaks new ground -- calling on utilities to meet all of the region's new energy demand with conservation and renewables -- it would only stabilize regional carbon emissions, not reduce them.
That's not good enough. The accelerating effects of climate change are too grave. The final sixth plan must explicitly recognize the need to phase out the dirty coal plants now supplying nearly a quarter of the region's electricity and nearly all the power system's carbon emissions. There's no other way for Oregon, Washington and Montana to live up to their commitment to a 15 percent emissions cut by 2020.
The final sixth plan also must address another probable challenge for the region's electric system: replacing with conservation and renewables the power produced by the lower Snake River dams.
Scientists agree that removing these four dams remains the most effective strategy for restoring abundant salmon runs to the Columbia Basin.
Our analysis, based on Power Council modeling, found that replacing the dams' electricity would cost between $173 million and $321 million a year -- less than half of what the Bonneville Power Administration claims.
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council can best serve our region by taking a rational and clear-eyed approach and telling utilities to plot a course away from coal and toward salmon restoration.
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