the film
Commentaries and editorials

The Political Thought Process
and the Snake River Dams

by Editorial Board
Capital Press, June 16, 2022

Blowing up those dams would be the equivalent of
taking a wrecking ball to the region's economy.

Graphic: Smolt to Adult ratio of Idaho's Spring/Summer Chinook (2000-2019) as estimated by Columbia Basin Research. When Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray commissioned a "study" of tearing down the four dams on the lower Snake River, we saw it as little more than another political sales pitch.

The main goal would be to come up with a cost lower than the $33.5 billion estimated by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. The apparent reasoning was that is an obscene amount of money to spend on not much, but that a smaller number would in some way be less obscene.

Such is the political thought process.

Now that the draft version of the study has been released, it appears that analysis was correct. The consultants hired to write the study came up with lower costs -- mainly by leaving things out.

The study wasn't really much. It was based on information already readily available. One might more accurately describe it as a Reader's Digest version of studies by others, including Simpson and an assortment of federal agencies.

As such, there's not much to say about it, except for the parts that are left out to reduce the costs. Simpson's wild guess of $34 billion is magically reduced to $10 billion to $27 billion. One supposes that if more items were left off the project list, the pricetag would get even smaller.

Brief attention is paid to the fact that blowing up those dams would be the equivalent of taking a wrecking ball to the region's economy. For example, those dams produce an average of 1,000 megawatts -- enough electricity to power all the households in Seattle, Portland, Spokane and Boise. That electricity cannot be replaced by a couple of solar farms and a windmill. And considering the big push to buy electric cars, more generation capacity, not less, is needed in the Northwest and elsewhere.

Suddenly, barge traffic on Snake River would be truncated, forcing farmers and others shipping their crops from Washington, Idaho and points east to export ports along the Columbia River to use more trucks and railroads.

That won't be cheap. Diesel fuel is over $6 a gallon and heading north, railroads and trucking companies are short-handed and the reliability of mainline railroads is as bad as it's ever been.

Anyone even suggesting that it would be OK to trade reliable and efficient barge traffic for trucks and railroads is fantasizing. But again, isn't fantasy an appropriate word to describe a plan to damage a region's economy for fish? And apparently the fish are already doing all right. Fish passage rates at the dams are well over 90%, according to U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, who opposes wrecking the dams.

There is a reality check in the study -- one that has always existed for those who have targeted Northwest dams. Inslee and Murray do not own those four Snake River dams. The American people do. They pay trillions of dollars in taxes to the federal government every year with the expectation that the money will be spent wisely.

It is unfortunate that "wisely" is not the way many people would describe federal overspending. Last year alone, the federal government spent $6.82 trillion and took in $4.05 trillion in revenue. The overall federal deficit is $30.5 trillion -- and counting.

The result, as anyone who has bought groceries, fuel -- or almost anything else -- can testify, is high inflation that robs everyone.

With this scenario in mind, Washington's governor and one of its U.S. senators have a lot of gall to even give lip service to spending tens of billions of borrowed dollars to put a torch to a major part of their own state's economy and then borrow more money to try to put it back together.

That is another part left out of the study.

Editorial Board
The Political Thought Process and the Snake River Dams
Capital Press, June 16, 2022

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation