Oregon Threatens Lawsuit Over Columbia
by Pete Danko
Fast-tracked by the Trump administration, the CRSO EIS said dam removal
would benefit fish, but at a cost to some that currently benefit from the status quo.
The state of Oregon has threatened to sue two federal agencies over a recent environmental review of Columbia River System dam operations, agreeing with conservationists that it doesn't do enough to protect imperiled salmon.
A 60-day notice of intent to sue, dated Monday, is targeted at the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates 12 dams in the system, and the Bureau of Reclamation, with operates two.
A spokesperson for Gov. Kate Brown said the state took the action "to preserve all legal options in case our collaborative efforts are not successful," adding, "It is our hope that these issues can be resolved without litigation."
The two federal agencies, along with the Bonneville Power Administration, led a court-ordered review of dam operations that called for continued maintenance of four lower Snake River dams. Environmental groups believe the dams should be removed to aid salmon runs and Puget Sound orca that feed on the fish.
The federal analysis, fast-tracked by the Trump administration, said dam removal would benefit fish, but at the costly and potentially dangerous loss of emissions-free hydropower. So instead the decision leaned heavily on spilling more water in the spring to aid juvenile fish passage.
Brown last month agreed with the governors of Washington, Idaho and Montana to work together to find solutions to the Columbia Basin salmon issue. But a letter signed by the four governors explicitly noted there could be varying views on the "adequacy" of the federal review that could lead them "to act on that assessment differently."
In its notice, Oregon said "legal violations of the (Endangered Species Act) and its implementing regulations … must be rectified."
Oregon alleges myriad issues with the record of decision and biological opinion by the agencies that essentially add up to allowing salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake to become extinct.
It questions the agencies' commitment to increased spill.
"After the 2021 spill season, the spill operation is not specified; instead, the action agencies express an intent to engage in some nebulous ‘adaptive management' process to determine a yet to be defined voluntary spill operation," the Oregon letter said.
The conservation group Earthjustice filed a similar notice of intent to sue a month ago, although it also named Bonneville as a target.
Northwest RiverPartners, which advocates for power, agriculture and shipping interests that believe the dams are essential, said it was disappointed by Oregon move.
The notice "calls into question their ability to be a neutral
overseer" and "undermines the credibility of the four-state process,"
Kurt Miller, the group's executive director, said.
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