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Simpson Talks Inflation, Gas Prices, Dams and
Why He Gives the Biden Administration an 'F'

by Nate Eaton
East Idaho News, October 13, 2022

Congressman Mike Simpson has been talking to people throughout the northwest and in Washington, D.C. about the salmon crisis, and he says he's determined to do what he can to solve it. IDAHO FALLS -- Congressman Mike Simpson of Idaho's 2nd Congressional District stopped by Wednesday to answer questions about inflation, gas prices, the economy, breaching Idaho dams and his view on President Biden's administration thus far.

Simpson, a Republican, is running for his fifth term against Democrat Wendy Norman.

Here is a lightly edited transcript of Simpson's conversation with reporter Nate Eaton.

NATE EATON, EASTIDAHONEWS.COM: The number one concern I'm hearing from people in eastern Idaho is about the economy and inflation. I was meeting with a restaurant owner just an hour ago in Idaho Falls. She said the price of pork a year or so ago was around $2. Then it shot up to $6. Now it's around $4. How do we deal with this?

REP. MIKE SIMPSON: Two things. One is gas prices. We have to make ourselves energy independent again, which we were two years ago. When Biden was first elected, his first action was to declare war on the oil industry. And guess what? Prices of oil went up. And that's what's happened with gas prices. That's driving some of the inflation.

The other thing is the incredible amount of spending that the Democratic majority has been doing over the last couple of years. They've spent like $7 trillion, in addition to our regular appropriation bills, on infrastructure, on the CHIPS bill, on the Inflation Reduction Act -- just add it all up. It's an enormous input of cash into the market and that causes inflation. You have too many dollars chasing too few goods. EATON: So what happens next? How do you get that under control and will prices go back down?

SIMPSON: Well, I think we can get prices back down if we can get ourselves back on (the) all of the above energy policy that reduces our reliance on foreign oil and OPEC.

Don't you find it kind of strange that the first action (of Pres. Biden) is punishing oil producers in the United States, and then we're going to go beg Saudi Arabia and Venezuela to produce more oil? I mean, that's just strange, because we do it better in this country than anywhere else, and more environmentally safe in this country than anywhere else in the world. So why wouldn't we use our own energy in this country? We're the Saudi Arabia of natural gas, and yet getting wells drilled and that type of stuff is almost impossible nowadays.

You do that by getting control of your budget and spending less money. One of the challenges we're going to have is people have gotten used to all this spending that's going on -- whether it's trying to relieve student loans and all that kind of stuff.

We are going to have a time bringing the spending down, which is what we're going to have to do. So I'll tell you next session, if the Republicans take majority, it's gonna be a tough time, because we're gonna have to make some tough choices. But they've got to be made and we've got to get our budget back under control.

EATON: Do you foresee Republicans taking the majority in Senate and the House?

SIMPSON: Every indication is we will in the House by a pretty good majority, I think. In the Senate, it's a little iffy. Right now the numbers look like we probably will buy one or two votes. But in the Senate, you only need 51 votes to be in the majority. Obviously, you're not going to get 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. So you're still going to have that challenge.

People think that we will be able to go in and change the direction the country is headed if they elect a Republican majority, but you're still going to have a Biden administration. And we won't have 60 votes to override and get past the Senate. So it's going to be more difficult.

One of the best things we can do and what we will probably do is restrict the spending and restrict some of the rules and regulations this administration is publishing that are hurting our economy. We do that by saying none of the funds in our appropriation bills can be used for this purpose or that purpose or whatever. That puts some sideboards on this administration that's been able to just run free for the last two years. EATON: Give this administration a letter grade so far.

SIMPSON: Really? I'd give it an F. I mean, I really would. I can't think of a thing that has been a positive from this administration. Whether it's control of our southern border, whether it's inflation in our economy, whether it's crime in our cities -- any of the major issues that you look at with this country. Look at our foreign policy. Nobody respects us anymore.

EATON: Let's talk about Idaho. The breaching of the four Lower Snake River dams is a proposal you came up with in February 2021. It's estimated to cost $33.5 billion in federal spending to breach in the year 2030. That cost includes replacing transportation, irrigation and power generation that will need to happen if you do breach them. Your critics say that if this happens, "life as we know it in our region would cease to exist," saying those dams cause power to half of the Pacific Northwest's energy. Why do you want to do this?

SIMPSON: Well, you've got four Idaho salmon runs that are endangered. They have been since 1985. They're gonna go extinct if we don't do something. We have tried everything else. When we started looking at this issue and how we could solve it, every fish biologist that we talked to said, listen, we've tried everything else. The only thing that will work is removing the lower four Snake River dams.

I asked the people in my district in southern Idaho what benefits you get from the dam. You get lower power rates? Not necessarily. You can buy power on the open market cheaper than you can buy it from Bonneville Power Administration right now. A lot of the rural electrics are looking at that now and when their contracts come due, I think they're going to be looking at the open market and not at Bonneville Power.

But when you look at the power production, those dams do have a value. The cost of the $33 billion that we estimate -- most of it is replacing those benefits and making the stakeholders whole. It's not breaching the dams. You can do that relatively cheaply. You have to do some dredging behind them to get rid of the silt, a few things like that, and then breaching is not all that expensive to do. But to replace the power, that's going to take some some money.

Out of the total power produced by the Bonneville Power Administration, only 4% of it comes from those four dams. Four percent of the total power in the Pacific Northwest. Idaho receives about 8% of that 4%. So not very much. We can replace that power with other means, like small modular reactors, etc. There are a lot of different ways to produce power.

When those dams were built, they were built mainly for power for the Hanford Nuclear site. At that time, if need the power either built a coal fired plant or you built a hydro plant. They chose hydro, which made sense at the time, but now there are so many ways to replace that power that you can replace it without any difficulty.

Transportation is another issue. Farmers in northern Idaho barge grain and so forth down the river, which is the cheapest form of transportation. You're going to have to replace the benefit that they receive from that, which is subsidized transportation, by the way. But in southern Idaho, we don't barge our grain. We put it on trucks and we take it to Ogden. So we don't get any benefits from that.

I keep asking my constituents -- okay, let's list all the benefits we get from those dams.

We also send 487,000-acre feet of water out of southern Idaho every year to flush salmon over the dams. That was an experiment to see if it would work. It hasn't. But that's still 487,000-acre feet of water we lose every year -- water we could be using to irrigate crops in southern Idaho. That's equivalent to about 150,000 acres of potatoes.

If you're not going to irrigate with it, you could recharge our aquifer. You know the drought we're in right now -- the challenges we're having there -- we're gonna have some water restrictions if this drought continues. Is it really smart to be sending 487,000 acre-feet of water down the river every year to flush salmon over dams to keep them from going extinct, which isn't working?

So I asked my constituents if you've got another plan that works that has a chance of saving salmon, let me know what it is. So far, I haven't heard anything. And I don't think the Endangered Species Act is going to allow these salmon to go extinct.

You're going to have a judge make that decision rather than us making the decision of what do we want the Pacific Northwest to look like in 25 or 50 years because the decisions we make now will be the decisions that will make that determination.

It is controversial. We knew when we introduced it, it would be controversial. We haven't introduced a bill. We've introduced a plan. And then I wanted a discussion in the entire Pacific Northwest -- talk about how are we going to solve this problem because it is a problem.

EATON: And people are discussing it.

SIMPSON: Yeah, they are discussing it. A lot of people don't understand the economic benefit that salmon has. This is not just saving a fish. This is the economy -- it's about a $2 billion industry in Idaho.

I can remember when I was a kid, I used to go up to Riggins and couldn't stand on the shore there were so many fishermen there fishing salmon. That doesn't happen anymore because we don't have any salmon runs anymore. They're so low that they cancel the fishing season most of times.

So it can be done but it does take a change. It's not as dramatic as some people would think. It is a challenging issue but the discussion certainly has started.

EATON: So many people say they're fed up with D.C. and they're fed up with politicians. What would you say to those people who have lost faith in our federal government politicians?

SIMPSON: Some of it's justified. There's too much partisanship that goes on in Washington D.C. One of my goals is try to reduce that partisanship, where you can get together and work with people across the aisle on issues that you have common goals. And we can do that. But right now, it's just totally partisan and that's unfortunate.

EATON: Have you seen it like this before?

SIMPSON: Not as bad as it is now. But the way we got here, frankly, is for 40 years, Democrats controlled Congress. Then in 1994, Republicans took over and if you control something for 40 years, pretty soon you're going to be, you know, ‘Thanks for showing up boys' and we're going to do whatever we want.

I understand that's kind of the way the world works. But when we took over in 1994, we said, ‘Okay, now we're gonna get even with the way the Democrats treated us.' And then in 2006, the Democrats took over and said, ‘Now we're going to get even with the Republicans.' And it just keeps escalating.

We've got to stop the revenge politics. Revenge politics doesn't work. It's not good for either party. It's not good for the country. We got to get together and start working together. But it's not just the politicians in Washington, D.C. The American public is split. You see some of the incivility that happens in this country and it's a little scary.

We've got to get people talking with one another. We don't have to agree with people, but talk to one another. Find out why somebody thinks the way they do. I want to see Congress get back to that. Whether we can get there or not, I don't know because if we take the majority, we're going to have some people that want to get even with the Democrats. And that's, that's the wrong way ahead, I think.

EATON: Congressman, thanks for coming in.

SIMPSON: You bet.

Related Pages:
Working Together, Bold Action Can Secure a Thriving Future for the Columbia Basin by Kate Brown, East Oregonian, 8/14/21

Nate Eaton Center for Biological Diversity, Portland
Simpson Talks Inflation, Gas Prices, Dams and Why He Gives the Biden Administration an 'F'
East Idaho News, October 13, 2022

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