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Jim McDermott's Bill could Help Save the Dams

by Bill Hall
Lewiston Tribune, July 20, 2001

Is U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott really trying to remove Snake River dams by introducing legislation to pull them out if other remedies fail?

Or is he trying to put pressure on the Bush administration to make sure those other remedies are applied with full force?

Or is he playing to his constituents in a western Washington congressional district that includes an abnormal number of ardent environmentalists?

Maybe a little of each. McDermott probably agrees with those who believe dams are most likely a prime cause of salmon and steelhead death. He may even agree with high church environmentalists who think that absolutely nothing in the Northwest matters more than those fish.

And yes, make no mistake about it, McDermott is playing to the galleries -- the same as Rep. Doc Hasting from the Tri-Cities area and Idaho 1st District Rep. Butch Otter are when they attack McDermottt and his dam legislation.

But sometimes a politician is actually doing what he says he is and the real story is what's showing on the surface. One blatant focal point of the McDermott bill is to pressure the feds to get serious about studying ways to save the fish short of dam breaching -- and to devise ways to mitigate the impact of dam removal if it comes to that.

Presumably, the latter might include something like federal funds to build a state-of-the-art railroad line to replace the water transportation lost to breaching, as well as funds for the affected communities to establish businesses to replace those done in by the loss of the dams.

Perhaps a federal study of ways to mitigate the damage would even go so far as to fund coal-fired or nuclear plants to replace lost electricity from the dams. Certainly, the West isn't crackling with surplus electricity right now.

But McDermott says in no uncertain terms that his prime motive for this bill is to pressure the Bush administration to pay more attention to funding, vocally supporting and getting serious about some form of remedy for endangered fish runs that might preserve the dams.

"The Bush administration," he said, "has so far failed to allocate funds to implement the 2000 Salmon Recovery Plan to avoid dam removal. If this bill nudges them to take the plan seriously and it is successful in preventing the breaching of the dams, then no one would be happier than I would."

Anyone who truly believes it is possible to keep the dams and the salmon both, as we hear so often around here, should welcome any effort to force the Bush administration to bear down on making that true.

Bill Hall
Jim McDermott's Bill could Help Save the Dams
Lewiston Tribune, July 20, 2001

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