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Commentaries and editorials

Congress Needs to Rethink
Salmon Recovery

by Editorial Board
Idaho Statesman, November 26, 2006

If you could save endangered salmon -- and save your country billions of tax dollars -- would you do it?

Don't you at least want to know more?
That's why we write to seek your help.

It's time for Congress to take an unflinching, objective look at salmon recovery, and the four federal dams that pose the greatest threat to Idaho's wild fish. You can put the congressional watchdog agencies to work. You can make our nation face up to a fundamental question: Are these dams an exorbitant fish-killing extravagance?

We've waited to see our regional representatives take the lead. But be they from Idaho, Oregon or Washington -- and be they Republican or Democrat -- they seem more interested in defending the dams and changing the subject.

So we turn to you. Please don't be put off by this form letter. We simply hope, among 535 members of Congress, to find somebody curious enough to ask the right questions.

To pique your curiosity, we cite findings from a new study -- titled "Revenue Stream: An Economic Analysis of the Costs and Benefits of Removing the Four Dams on the Lower Snake River" -- that makes an economic and environmental case for breaching the dams, and allowing water and fish to move as nature intended:

Those numbers should have caught the eye of Northwest leaders. Instead, U.S. Rep. and Idaho Gov.-elect Butch Otter dismissed the source. "It's important to remember that this study comes from the same folks who think our loggers, miners and mill workers, and the Idaho communities they built, are better off with tourism jobs."

We disagree, and point out that a variety of groups had a hand in this study: environmentalists, fishing organizations, Taxpayers for Common Sense and Republicans for Environmental Protection.

However, quibbling over authorship neither saves the fish nor ends the debate.

As a member of Congress, you can advance the discussion. You have at your disposal professional and nonpartisan researchers, such as the General Accounting Office. Ask for a comprehensive cost-benefit study on the lower Snake River dams.

The authors of "Revenue Stream" concede that their report is "not exhaustive. "Missing, for instance, is a detailed breakdown of the type of jobs the Northwest would gain, or lose, after breaching. But the study makes a compelling case for Congress to dig deeper.

We recognize you have a full agenda: Iraq, health care, immigration, entitlement programs, and the shifting balance of power on Capitol Hill.

But the federal deficit should be among your highest priorities. Isn't it worth looking to see if Congress can do better on salmon recovery, for $1.6 billion to $4.6 billion less?

This isn't simply a debate over dollars -- although, in advocating nine years ago for dam removal, we built our case around costs and benefits. This is also a debate about Idaho values: finding a new way for grain growers to ship their harvest to the Pacific Rim; protecting farmers' access to scarce Idaho water; and preserving an iconic component of wild Idaho. In order to move the dialogue, though, we'll unabashedly appeal to the bottom line.

"Revenue Stream" sums up the situation well. "National and Northwest leaders should closely examine (breaching) rather than continuing to spend taxpayer dollars on less-beneficial measures. Taxpayers and Northwest electricity ratepayers deserve this thorough examination."

We hope you agree.


The Statesman editorial board

Related Sites:
Adult Salmon Passage at Lower Granite Dam Yearly Adult Counts 1975 - Present
"Revenue Stream," Taxpayers for Common Sense

Editorial Board
Congress Needs to Rethink Salmon Recovery
Idaho Statesman, November 26, 2006

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